Here’s what Andre Iguodala said after the Golden State Warriors won the last game of the season: “We’re going down as one of the best teams ever.”
To either support or challenge Iguodala’s boast, here’s the first installment of a series that will match the Warriors against some of the most dominant teams in the history of the NBA.
Today’s fantasy opponent in a theoretical seven-game series is the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, which concluded their regular season with a record of 72-10, and then went 15-3 on their way to the championship.
Golden State’s starters are Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, with Shaun Livingston and Ian Clark coming off the bench.
Chicago started Ron Harper at the point. Despite some leg woes that diminished the super-quickness of his earlier career, Harper still had the size, the strength, and the savvy to significantly impair Curry’s effectiveness. Even so, Harper would do a much better job playing opposite Thompson.
That would leave Michael Jordan to counter and lock down Curry. At the other end of the court, Harper would function as a facilitator while MJ would simply destroy any of the Warriors’ guards.
Steve Kerr backed up Harper. A reliable long-range shooter and feisty defender with a high basketball IQ, Kerr would nevertheless be unable to contain Curry.
Scottie Pippen also spent a few emergency minutes at either guard spot, and would lock up whomever he was defending
Neither Livingston nor Clark would have much of an impact.
For the Warriors, Kevin Durant is their go-to scorer, with Iguodala backing him up.
The matchup of Scottie Pippen, one of the best defensive players ever, and KD would be especially intriguing.
Pippen specialized in denying his man the ball, and then playing spider-like man-to-man defense. He had the length, the speed and quickness, plus the total dedication to reduce Durant from superstar status to merely a run-of-the-mill star.
At the other end, Pippen’s mastery of the triangle offense would create many optimal scoring chances. Even though KD would take more shots, their respective points scored would be roughly equal.
Behind Pippen was Toni Kukoc, a 7-footer with shooting guard skills. Only because he had more scoring responsibilities and opportunities, Kukoc would be more of a factor than Iguodala.
The Warriors field Draymond Green and David West at power forward, and Zaza Pachulia and either Green or West at center.
The Bulls would counter with Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley, John Salley, and Bill Wennington.
Rodman would totally make Green and West non-factors. Longley was a terrific passer with a modest post-up game who would send Pachulia to the bench in a hurry. Salley would do the same. Wennington’s mid-range jumpers were a perfect fit in the Bulls’ triangle offense.
Also, Rodman would certainly spend some time guarding Durant—which would have been one of the all-time spectacles in the entire history of basketball.
The Bulls’ big guards, not-so-small small forwards, and power forwards would be able to switch on any and all screens set by the Warriors without suffering any mismatches.
There’s no way the Warriors could hope to contain His Airness.
Chicago’s elite defense could disrupt Golden State’s powerful offensive attack. The Bulls would take advantage of the discomfort both Thompson and Curry exhibited against the Cavs when they were subjected to full-court pressure.
The Bulls’ versatility would also have no trouble handling the Warriors’ small-ball lineups. That would be Harper, Jordan, Pippen, with Kukoc at the 4-spot and Rodman playing center.
The triangle offense would control the pace of the game and force the Warriors to play station-to-station half-court ball.
It should also be noted that, although the 3-point shot was considered to be merely an adjunct of a team’s offense, the Bulls shot 40.3 percent from downtown.
The masters (Phil Jackson and Tex Winter) versus the student gives the Bulls an edge in between-game as well as in-game adjustments.
With the 1995-96 bump, hold, and bang defensive roles in force, the Bulls would sweep the Warriors.
With the modern no-touch defensive rules in effect, the Bulls would win in five games.
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