1996 Chicago Bulls Vs. 1999 San Antonio Spurs

The exciting thing about this match-up is it very nearly happened 먹튀검증. Chicago won 3 straight championships from 1996 to 1998 before the team was dismantled following the lockout, and when the NBA resumed, it was San Antonio that claimed the title. The 1998 Bulls team was the most vulnerable of all the Bulls championship teams with fatigue, trades, and injuries all playing a role in Chicago’s “decline”.

San Antonio was a veteran team, but had youth on its side with Tim Duncan in only his second NBA season becoming their leader on the offensive end. Surrounding Duncan was David Robinson, who made the selfless and conscious decision to bottle his offensive game up in order to give Duncan the space required to be a dominant offensive player.

Rounding out the Spurs line-up was Sean Elliot (who was the Spurs most effective off-the-dribble creator), Mario Ellie (2-time championship winner who provided poise in critical moments), Avery Johnson (vocal leader of the Spurs), and Antonio Daniels (like Duncan, also a second-year man but was able to provide a significant defensive spark off the bench). Had the Bulls not been dismantled in the off-season, there’s no question in my mind they would have made it back to the Finals and faced San Antonio. But make no mistake about it, this Spurs team would give the 96 Bulls all they could handle.

Our Strength, your weakness.

The most concerning part for this match-up if you’re a Bulls fan is the Spurs have 2 all-time great big men. Chicago would always find a way to contain dominant centers such as Shaq or Patrick Ewing, but they never had to contend with 2. This is significant because the Bulls prime line-up of Rodman/ Kukoc/ Pippen/ Jordan/ Harper can’t be used for significant periods of time as Rodman can

only guard one big, either Robinson or Duncan, leaving Kukoc to take the other one. That would be an absolute disaster, even with the perimeter help of Pippen/ Jordan/ Harper. This means Longley/ Wennington/ Jason Caffey would see a lot more minutes just to provide more defensive muscle and rebounding.

On the other end of the court, this really hinders the Bulls offensive strategy because Kukoc spreads the floor all the way to the 3-point line (Wennington was a good mid-range shooter, but nowhere near the offensive threat Kukoc was), which opened things up for the Bulls guards (mainly Pippen and Jordan) to get to the basket. Now they will be met by not one, but two, amazing rim protectors.

This problem is compounded by the fact that Rodman is only a threat offensively due to his ability to rebound, so Duncan AND Robinson will be patrolling the paint frequently.

How do the Bulls counter? Do they even have a counter?

Chicago’s ability to pressure the ball was one of the key reasons to their dominance in the 90s. Pippen, Harper, and Jordan, were relentless in going after guards.

They made superstar level point guards such as Penny Hardaway, Tim Hardaway, Gary Payton, and John Stockton all struggle in getting the ball over mid-court and their teams into their offence.

This is important because San Antonio’s weakness was definitely ball-handling, and yes, Avery Johnson was a fantastic leader and essentially another coach on the court, but he was never overly skilled or athletic. If you put Scottie Pippen on him like the Bulls did with Pippen on Mark Jackson in the 98 conference finals, then this entire match up just got turned on its head.

Does San Antonio have anyone else to break the pressure? Do they go to Antonio Daniels? And if so, do we think a second-year player who specialized on the defensive end of the court can be the difference in the vaunted Bulls press?

If San Antonio can’t counter, it doesn’t matter was they have in the front court if they only have 15 seconds to run their offence.

All is fair in love and defensive wars

Not exactly. San Antonio’s rim protection slows down Chicago’s offence, but it doesn’t stifle it. You would have to think that Mario Ellie would be given the almost impossible task of being the primary defender on Michael Jordan, and as good of a defender as Ellie was in during the 95 playoffs, by 99 he had slowed down a bit. The Spurs had problems guarding the Allan Houston/ Latrell Sprewell combination in the 99 finals, so what would they do to slow down MJ and Pippen?

1999 NBA Finals

Latrell Sprewell: 26 PPG, 6 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.4 SPG

Allan Houston: 21.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.6 APG

The Spurs did a good job of completely shutting down the rest of the Knicks players, but that’s a bit easier to do when you have Chris Dudley starting over Marcus Camby.

Once Jeff Van Gumby, I mean Gundy, finally figured out Dudley wouldn’t give them much and played Camby, the Knicks were much more competitive (winning game 3 by 8 points, losing game 4 by 7, and game 5 by 1 point). Once again, Spree and Houston did the bulk of the damage:

Games 3, 4, and 5 of the 1999 Finals

Latrell Sprewell: 28.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 2.0 SPG

Allan Houston: 23.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.0 APG

For comparison’s sake, MJ and Pippen in 96 posted these numbers against good (Orlando and New York) and great (Seattle and Miami) defensive opposition in the playoffs:

1996 Playoffs:

Michael Jordan: 30.7 PPG, 5 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.8 SPG

Scottie Pippen: 17 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.6 SPG

Jordan, by his own standards, had also slowed down athletically in 96 but still had an explosive first step and could get to the rim whenever teams pressed him on the perimeter. Now because of the rim protection that the Spurs have, that’s not as big of an issue for San Antonio.

What has to concern them though is Jordan’s post up and mid-range game, which were as close to flawless as we have ever seen. Jordan could easily pull up after going by Ellie before the Spurs could help, or go directly into the post and work the fade-away and force San Antonio to double him as soon as he catches it. This would force the likes of Pippen and Kukoc and Kerr to make shots, which isn’t as ideal as allowing Jordan to operate, but I feel much more confident in those Bulls players making those plays than putting the ball in the hands of Antonio Daniels and hoping he can break the Bulls press or Sean Elliot/ Avery Johnson consistently making jumpers and plays.


Tim Duncan’s ascension in the NBA was remarkable. In only his second season, he had ascended to being universally regarded as the game’s most complete player. But perhaps we should take this with a grain of salt. I don’t want to us the word asterisk here, but the 1999 season was definitely one of transition in the NBA. There is no question about his dominance in the playoffs, but the teams that the Spurs went through (Minnesota, Lakers, Blazers) in the Western Conference certainly lacked mental toughness. It took the Timberwolves until 2004 before they would advance past the first round (something that they are yet to do since). The Lakers would go on to start a dynasty after this season, but were a disastrous combined 1-12 in playoff series in which they were eliminated from 1997 to 1999 (all 3 seasons during the Shaq/Kobe era). Portland was a deep and talented team, but lacked any kind of leadership on the offensive end.

The only challenge they would receive in their run would be the 8 seeded Knicks, but they were so severely undermanned that it didn’t really matter (and even then, look at the production Sprewell and Houston put up on the Spurs).

The question that arises from this is if we could expect Tim Duncan to continue his dominance against the 96 Bulls. The answer is a resounding no. Yes, it’s true (IT’S DAMN TRUE! Sorry, Kurt Angle moment) that he would pose a significant issue for Chicago in terms of how they defend him, but when you take into account how the Bulls handled Malone in 97 and 98 (both with a disinterested Dennis Rodman, no less) who had a point guard who had made a career in getting him great looks in John Stockton (as opposed to a severely limited Avery Johnson), then I think the Bulls contain a young Duncan. Now if this was the 2003 Tim Duncan, you might be able to convince me that he’d handle the pressure. But not in his second year, and not against this Chicago team.

Result: Bulls in 5. This would be one of Chicago’s toughest test had they played this Spurs team in the 90s. This was the best Spurs front-line out of all their championships, and they would dominate the Bulls inside. The difference is the Spurs perimeter play, while full of veterans, would not be able to slow down Jordan enough without throwing the kitchen sink at him to get the ball out of his hands.

They would prevent MJ from getting into the lane and finishing at all, but Jordan’s offensive game was so versatile that you needed to be able to take more than one facet away from him. The Spurs can’t do that, and the Bulls press would cause enough problems that simply getting out the backcourt in one piece could be cause for celebration for San Antonio.

The series would be relatively short, but each game would go down to the wire, but I trust the Bulls poise in those critical situations a lot more than the Spurs.

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