Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
It may certainly be more compelling, and definitely less odd, to have one of the three teams from the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat of the 1990s dynasty to face off against one of the three teams from the second three-peat as we Settle the Argument of the greatest team in franchise history.
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But simulated games don’t lie. And with the help of our partners at Strat-O-Matic, the No. 3-seeded 1996-97 Bulls upset the No. 2-seeded 1991-92 Bulls in one semifinal matchup.
You knew which team would be waiting out of the other semifinal matchup---the 72-win 1995-96 Bulls. This is the team many consider to be the greatest of all-time in the NBA.
And who, outside of some people in the Bay Area and perhaps some elder Celtics or Lakers fans, is to argue? The 1995-96 Bulls not only won a then-record 72 games but posted a net rating of plus-13.4.
They didn’t just beat opponents. They played them into submission.
Will they do the same to the 1996-97 team that won 69 games? We have real play-by-play and box scores to show you.
We’re not going to lie: This matchup presents some odd matchups. Obviously, Scottie Pippen would guard Michael Jordan and vice versa. But moving past the odd picture of a Luc Longley vs. Longley opening tip, who’s keeping Dennis Rodman off the boards?
Not the 1996-97 version of Rodman.
The 1995-96 Rodman had his best offensive showing of the playoffs with 11 points and 21 rebounds, seven of them offensive. That led to putbacks on the rare occurrence that Jordan missed---which wasn’t much since he scored 51 points.
The 1996-97 Jordan shot just 8-for-24. Ballgame, 112-101.
Jordan scored 29 points, Pippen added 24 and Toni Kukoc joined the party with 20 as the 1995-96 team took a commanding, 2-0 series lead with a 109-86 cakewalk.
How easy was it? How does 34 fast-break points and just 12 turnovers sound? Like we said, this team didn’t just beat opponents. They played them into submission.
And they defended to no end. The 1996-97 team shot just 36 percent.
If the 1996-97 team was going to win any game in the series, role players would have to step up. And that’s exactly what happened in their 115-109 triumph.
Ron Harper sank a huge 3-pointer and Rodman scored on a fast break to thwart a fourth-quarter comeback attempt by the 1995-96 team.
Pippen’s 32 points led five in double figures, helping the 1996-97 team survive an off night from Jordan, who managed 18 points on 6-for-19 shooting. Harper scored 21 points, while Steve Kerr added 19.
The most dominant aspect to the 1995-96 team is how they could beat teams at either end. That’s how good their No. 1-ranked offense and No. 1-ranked defense were. They could provide in that moment what the game needed.
And so it was with a relatively ho-hum 107-97 victory in which the 1996-97 team managed just 44 percent shooting.
Longley, as he often did, scored most of his 10 points in the first quarter. And Jordan (29 points), Pippen (21) and Kukoc (14) took it from there, putting the 1995-96 team on the precipice of victory.
Jordan in closeout games meant Jordan in attack mode. Translated: Expect many trips to the basket and/or free-throw line.
The 1995-96 team trailed by as many as 19 in the first half. No bother. Jordan kept attacking and sank 16 of 17 free throws as part of his 28 points in the taut 102-99 victory.
And that’s a wrap. The 1995-96 team is the greatest Bulls team of all-time, by virtue of a 4-1 series victory over the 1996-97 team and with the help of our partners at Strat-0-Matic, who supplied simulated games with play-by-play and box scores.
Reading through these is like reading a good book, hearkening back to a sublime time in Chicago sports, a time when the Bulls authored one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.