There have been some pretty great NBA Finals matchups in our lifetime but nothing would be better to see these two teams face off with each other. The 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls’ 72 victories were an NBA record for 20 years. Even though the Golden State Warriors rewrote the record book during the 2015-2016 season with 73 wins, they failed to win a championship like the Bulls.
The Bulls were led by a legendary regime with MVP Michael Jordan, prime time Scottie Pippen, and the tenacious Dennis Rodman. The Warriors featured the heralded “Splash Brothers” in unanimous MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, while Draymond Green was a borderline triple-double machine that played premier defense. If these two teams played together with fully healthy players, who would win this series?
1995-1996 Chicago Bulls
Starters: Ron Harper, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley
Reserves: Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Bill Wennington, Randy Brown, Jud Buechler, James Edwards, John Salley
2015-2016 Golden State Warriors
Starters: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut
Reserves: Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Mareese Speights, Brandon Rush, Festus Ezeli, Ian Clark, James Michael-McAdoo
Point Guard: Ron Harper vs. Stephen Curry
Harper was a solid perimeter defender that excelled as a role player for the Bulls. He went from a 20-point scorer to somebody that did the dirty work. With options like Jordan and Pippen, Harper didn’t need to score 20 points each night for the Bulls to win. He just needed to facilitate and find ways to get the stars on the team the ball.
As for Curry, he was coming off his second straight MVP, only to become the first player to ever win a unanimous MVP. Curry finished the season with 30.1 points per game and was a member of the 50-40-90 club. With his ability to shoot from downtown, which was a 45.5% clip. he was dangerous in all parts of the court.
Harper might have been more physical than Curry, but Curry is the better player. He would have used screens to easily knock down long shots. By the middle of the first game, Jordan would have been guarding him.
Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan vs. Klay Thompson
How do you go against a player that owns six NBA Finals MVPs to his name? However, a healthy Klay Thompson in his prime would have been the only option that could slow down Jordan. Both listed at 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, they are the same player are paper but everyone knows that Jordan was one of the best overall athletes we have ever seen.
Thompson would give Jordan fits and vice versa. This all comes down to matchups. If Jordan was forced to play defense on Curry, Thompson would be able to light up Harper. However, if Jordan was on Thompson, Curry would have 30 points each night. When you have to pick your poison, there is not a clear answer.
In the end, the Bulls would likely switch Jordan off Curry and Thompson. They would need to conserve his energy so that he could provide offense on the other end. If the game was close, he probably would guard Curry and let Harper try and stop Thompson. Neutralizing the backcourt of Golden State would be priority number one with the pre-game plan.
Small Forward: Scottie Pippen vs. Harrison Barnes
Scottie Pippen would have an opportunity to win NBA Finals MVP if Barnes guards him the whole time. Pippen was only the team’s number two option because the Bulls had the greatest player in the world on their team. Pippen would eat Barnes alive in the lane, but who would you switch?
The Warriors cannot take Draymond Green off Dennis Rodman (more on that in a bit), and you cannot move Thompson off Jordan. One idea would give Barnes the job of guarding Harper since he is the slower of the three. Curry could guard Pippen and be given the directive to “guard when you need to.” Pippen is going to get over 20 points per game but is it worth the cost of Curry’s potential 30 points?
As for the Bulls, using Pippen and Jordan on the Warriors backcourt seems like the best option. Harper could guard Barnes since he was primarily an outside option. Curry and Thompson were a duel-threat, while Barnes was not known to go to the basket.
Power Forward: Dennis Rodman vs. Draymond Green
How amazing would this matchup be? This would be two defensive maestros going at one another but more importantly, it would be two of the biggest personalities too. Rodman is fifth all-time with 212 technical fouls, while Green has once been ejected for picking up two technicals in 11 seconds. Green has been suspended for surpassing the league allowed limit.
Outside of the commentary, this has such intriguing elements. Green is the more versatile offensive player. He can score inside, outside, and make the pass. He can handle the ball and bring it up if necessary. Green would be able to pull Rodman out of the post because he is that dangerous. For Rodman, he seldomly tried to score and did not own a three-point shot, so Green could cheat inside.
Green could be used to guard Pippen but out of everyone on the floor, Green is the best rebounder. Rodman was a three-time league leader in rebounds. Somebody has to do the dirty work and that was always Green’s job.
Center: Luc Longley vs. Andrew Bogut
When it came to starting lineup, both names were just there for the sake of the center position. Neither typically closed out games and were considered role players. Longley was 7-foot-2, while Bogut was 7-foot-1. At least for the first five minutes, watching two long centers duke it out would be entertaining until the likes of Toni Kukoc or Andre Iguodala came in.
During this series, we would not see much of these guys. Both teams would play small ball, so the need for a center slowly getting up the court would not do. By the end of the game, both would have a couple of points, a few boards, and maybe a blocked shot.
Bench vs. Bench
For Chicago, Kukoc was a central part of the team’s success. He really could have been a starter but the team wanted to go the traditional route and include a player for all five positions. Kukoc’s shooting abilities would have made him an ideal fit for today’s league. Despite taking the brunt of Jordan’s attitude, he was unafraid of anybody and at times one of the more clutch players on the Bulls roster.
The same could be said about Steve Kerr. Many remember Kerr for the shot he made in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals. One year before that season, he was still the same fun-loving, hard-nosed player. Bill Wennington and Jed Buechler gave the Bulls solid minutes and could be dangerous at times. These four players knew their role and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. If Jordan or Pippen needed a break, there was always a threat for a deep shot or an easy layup.
The Warriors typically closed games with Iguodala. He was a former All-Star that could pass, hit an occasional three-ball, and play defense. With Iguodala in the game, it would mean that Thompson and Iguodala could handle Jordan and Pippen. Curry could guard Kukoc, while Barnes could stay on Harper. Green would have to play the center position but with a small-ball lineup, it would likely mean that Rodman is playing the five.
Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, and Festus Ezeli were the others that primarily played in games. Livingston ran the offense well while Curry was out. Barbosa could hit the occasional outside shot, while Ezeli could offer four points and five rebounds each night.
Coach: Phil Jackson vs. Steve Kerr
The headline for this series would be perfect with prodigy versus mentor headlining all of the screens. Since this is hypothetical, we understand that Kerr can’t play for the Bulls and coach the Warriors. For the sake of pretending, what if he did?
Both coaches understand the principles of the “triangle” offense. The offense was perfect for that Bulls team, which would be an advantage to Kerr because he lived that offense. He would be able to plan accordingly to it. The Warriors would be well-suited to stop this strategy. Even though this is an outdated offense, with this group, it was lethal.
Kerr would have an advantage over Jackson in this capacity. Kerr was instrumental in helping the Warriors run a “motion” system that implemented three-pointers and off-ball movement. This was well-past Jackson’s time, so he would have a tough time planning for it. Jackson may have the edge in experience, but Kerr would have the edge in implementing a system that Jackson had never seen before.
In the end, a coach has to be able to run the Xs and Os, as well as manage personalities. Jordan was the biggest personality in basketball. Kerr took over a team that was a middle of the back team and turned them into a Finals contender each year. Both are Hall of Fame-caliber coaches.
This would be a back-and-forth series that would go the full distance. To start, the Warriors would win Game 1. The Bulls would be stunned with the motion offense. The trio of Curry, Thompson, and Barnes would combine for 20 three-pointers, while both Curry and Thompson would go off for 30 points each. It would force Coach Jackson to back to the drawing board and make adjustments.
In Game 2, the Bulls would make those adjustments and win by about ten points. It would be a low-scoring affair as both teams play to the defensive style. The Bulls take Game 2 by winning the race to 100 points with a 100-93 win. Game 3 would be played at the United Center, where Chicago would take a 2-1 series lead.
Game 4 is when we would see the tension of the last three battles build up. Both Rodman and Green get hit with their first technical foul and have to be separated before an ejection. The Warriors get hot and start hitting deep shots that the Bulls have never seen before. After keeping up with Golden State for most of the game, Chicago gets tired and can’t keep up with the motion.
The Bulls were never known for trailing in a Finals and that wouldn’t start now. With two games left in the NBA Finals, the Warriors try to double Jordan but Pippen erupts for 35 points and 12 rebounds. Jordan gives his typical 40 points and 10 assists, while he holds Curry to 3-of-12 shooting. The Bulls win by 20 points and ride the momentum back to the Bay Area.
The Warriors use desperation and receive help from their bench to stay alive in Game 6. Andre Iguodala starts instead of Bogut and the Warriors play small-ball the entire game. Iguodala and Thompson neutralize Jordan and Pippen, while Curry reverts to his MVP self. With Curry playing fresh on offense, he keeps the Warriors alive with 42 points, while Barnes has his best game of the series with 20 points.
In Game 7, it boils down to the better “Big 3.” In this case, the greatest player ever leads Chicago to the title. Like Game 6 of the 1998 Finals, he scores 45 points and the Bulls hold the Warriors under 100 points. Rodman outplays Green and finishes with 20 rebounds, seven of which come on the offensive end. Pippen gets moved to play defense on Curry, Jordan on Thompson, while Harper sticks to Barnes. The greatest NBA Finals ends with the Bulls on top.
NBA Finals Results
72-10 Chicago Bulls vs. 73-9 Golden State Warriors 4-3
Finals MVP: Michael Jordan (37.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 7.0 APG, 3.5 SPG, 2.0 BPG)