It’s been the talk of the town for weeks. No more guessing. No more trying to figure out who’d beat whom. It’s decision day. The Golden State Warriors, the team that has just won 72 games, that features shooting wizard Steph Curry will face the 1995/96 Chicago Bulls. Remember? That team that was the first to ever win 70 games. That team that many thought to be the best to ever come together. That team that features arguably the best player of all time, Mr. G.O.A.T., Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
It’s basketball’s version of Frazier vs. Ali. The hardwood’s equivalent to Rocky against Ivan Drago. The two heaviest weights go off against each other. It doesn’t get any better than that. And now we’re only 90 minutes away from tipoff. If it was a normal game, people would now start thinking about making their way to the arena. The ones who’d already be there would spend their time looking for nachos, hot dogs, popcorn and beer. The arena would slowly start filling up.
Anticipation. Anxiety. Eagerness. Curiosity
But this is different. Now, that tip-off is still 90 minutes away, Dallas’ Cowboys Stadium is already as packed as it was for the 2010 All-Star Game. The 108.713 spectators have already claimed their seats. No one wants to miss even a single glimpse of the two teams that have done what no other squad in NBA history has achieved. People want to see Curry’s pre-game routine. They want to see Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls who are back in their prime. Excitement anybody?
So now there they are, preparing for a clash for the ages. MJ. Curry. The Bulls. The Warriors. Tension is high. Even now that the two teams are just warming up, fans are following every lay-up line, every shooting drill as if it was the last seconds of the finals’ game seven. Anticipation. Anxiety. Eagerness. Curiosity. It all comes together.
Let’s Be Young Again
60 Minutes. So far the players haven’t really interacted. No friendly chats. No hand shakes. Even Steve Kerr hasn’t come over to his team yet. Side note: Golden State’s Coach – quite understandably – chose the chance to being young once again. He’s suiting up for the Bulls letting Luke Walton coach the Warriors which, as some might recall, went pretty well for the Dubs in the course of the season. So instead of enjoying his Warriors’ pre-game routine, Kerr is now taking shots of his own, passing the ball to Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc or Ron Harper. Everyone is locked in. Everyone is ready.
30 Minutes. Right before the player introductions Jordan and Curry meet half court. They hug. They chat. They smile. Mutual respect between two greats.
And then – lights out! The Warriors go first. And it almost seems like the Big D has been transformed into Oracle. The roar sounds familiar. From North Carolina Number 40 – HARRISON BARNES. From Michigan State, Number 23 – DRAY-MOND GREEN. From Melbourne Australia, Number 12 – ANDREW BOGUT. In his fifth year out of Washington State, Number 11 – KLAYYY THOMPSON. And in his seventh NBA season out of Davidson, NUMBER 30 – STEPHEEEEN CURRYYY.
The Warriors are here – here come the Bulls. Lights are dimmed once again. Goosebump time! On the big video cube a herd of bulls forces its way through the streets of Chicago. AAAAAAND NOW THE STARTING LINEUP FOR YOUR CHICAGO BULLS. Mayhem. AT FORWARD, FROM CENTRAL ARKANSAS, 6’7” – SCOTTIE PIPPEN. A 6’8” Forward out off South-East Oklahoma State – DENNIS RODMAN. The MAN in the Middle, from New Mexico, 7’2”, LUUUC LONGLEY. A 6’6” Guard from Miami, Ohio – ROOON HARPER. FROM NORTH CAROLINA – mayhem reaches it’s peak – AT GUARD, 6’6’’, MICHAEL JORDAN.
Here they are, the – statistically – two best teams in NBA history. Sharing the same court. Trying to figure out who might win the ultimate clash. After all that’s been said and done, after all the guessing, the assuming, the Golden State Warriors and the Chicago Bulls now meet on the court for the biggest game basketball has ever seen.
Enough talk now! Let’s go! Andrew Bogut and Luc Longley shake hands, share a quick hug. After all, the tipoff is an Australian affair. Bogut is a bit quicker and tips the ball to Steph Curry. The game is under way. What’s it going to bring? Well, for Curry it starts with Scottie Pippen’s undivided attention. With the game’s first possession Chicago’s premium defender takes care of the probably soon to be two-time MVP. So let’s see whether Pippen’s length and athleticism causes the same problems Kawhi Leonard did when he was guarding Curry during the regular season.
The answer? It has to wait. With the game just having started the Warriors go through their sets. Some stagger screens. Some high pick’n’roll. Fluent ball movement. And after a series of screens and passes Klay Thompson gets his first open shot. Money? Iron!
Dennis Rodman and Draymond Green fight for the rebound – what a pleasant matchup this is going to be – but „The Worm“ comes up with the ball, hands it right over to Ron Harper. The Bulls push the tempo. Harper passes to Jordan who, without hesitation, attempts the drive against Thompson and finishes off with a soft touch over the glass. The first points of the game!
With Pippen on Curry, Green picks up the inbound pass and initiates Golden States offense. So while the former Spartan pushes the pace, Curry tries to get rid off Pip through a series of backdoor screens – and it works. A cut sets him free on the three-point line and Steph pulls the trigger. Nothing but net. The crowd erupts! What a start!
Kerr with the Triple
And it goes on. The Warriors’ fluent offense, their shooting causes problems for the Bulls. Chicago’s athletic wings, on the other hand, prevent Golden State from running too hot. Jordan and Harper contain Thompson, Pippen doesn’t allow Curry too much space. Yet, in the first half, Steph is still able to hit five threes.
On the other end of the floor, though, the taller Harper posts up against Curry, forcing teammates to help and then hits shooters for open threes. One of them being Steve Kerr who can’t contain a little grin towards the Warriors’ bench after his first triple.
MJ Taking Over, But…
And then there is Michael Jordan whom the Warriors can’t really control, who shoulders the Bulls’ offense. Even after Golden State decides to use Rodman’s lack of offensive prowess and leave the power forward alone to send a second defender over to Jordan, MJ is still hitting jumpers, driving to the basket, finishing in traffic. No one, neither Draymond Green nor Klay Thompson or Andre Iguodala is able to contain number 23.
Yet one question remains: How long will Jordan be able to keep up the pace offensively while chasing Thompson around countless screens on the defensive end? For the first half he can. At half time Jordan has scored 18 points, dished out 5 Assists and thus has helped the Bulls to hold a tiny three-point lead.
So far the game definitely matches the hype. Rodman and Green battle each other in the paint – and anywhere in between. Pippen gives Curry the hardest time possible, but, with Barnes and Iguodala defending him, is not that much of an offensive threat so far. Thanks to his length Ron Harper switches between Thompson and Curry, giving either Jordan or Pippen some time to breathe. Still Golden State’s ball movement sometimes catches the Bulls off foot, yet Chicago’s stingy defense, Michael Jordan and one adjustment gives the Bulls their small advantage.
The adjustment? Well, many have wondered how the Bulls would be able to keep up with the Warriors’ deadly small-ball lineup. Pretty well, so far. Whenever Green switches to the five spot, Phil Jackson brings in Toni Kukoc as a stretch four, letting Rodman play center. The problem of Rodman not being able to score constantly stands, on the other hand though, „The Worm“ keeps doing what he does best. He rebounds. Ferociously. Especially on the offensive glass which gives the Bulls a decent amount of second-chance points.
Kukoc, however, plays his role close to perfection. Defensively he faces some trouble containing the more athletic Harrison Barnes, offensively though the Croatian uses his basketball IQ to award himself with a number of open shots that he constantly hits.
That does not only take some load off Jordan’s shoulders it also robs the Warriors off one of their biggest strengths. Whichever matchup they present the Bulls with, Chicago has an answer – or at least comes close to having one. Yet, the game is close. Very close. No team is able to set itself apart. Curry keeps shooting – and hitting – threes. Thompson increasingly finds his rhythm and Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa provide the Warriors with some important spark from the bench.
Green vs. Rodman
For the Bulls, Pippen starts finding ways to score while still giving Curry a hard time. Inevitably the game moves towards its peak. Towards the final minute. And towards a clash between Dennis Rodman and Draymond Green. After a battle on the offensive glass, Rodman holds on to Green’s arm for a little too long. The Warrior starts talking. The Bull responds. Words are exchanged. Shoves are given. Of course, both keep smiling throughout their interaction. Anyways, the refs award both with a technical foul.
Play on! So with 50 seconds to play the Bulls are up by three. Curry dribbles the ball towards the three-point line. Everyone knows what’s about to come. So does Scottie Pippen. And unlike Andre Roberson prior to Curry’s famous almost half-court game winner against OKC, Chicago’s wing doesn’t give Steph an inch of space. So Curry passes to Green who pretends to initiate a drive. Uncharacteristically, though, Michael Jordan loses sight of Klay Thompson who – after a backdoor cut – is wide open in the left corner. Splash! With 40 seconds to play we’re right where we began. Timeout Bulls!
Whatever play Phil Jackson called, it ends with Michael Jordan getting the ball on the right block. With Andre Iguodala on him, MJ shakes, fades… and hits. Bulls up by two! Timeout Golden State! But do they really need it? Don’t they have Steph Curry? Well, they do. With time winding down, Curry crosses Pippen over, but Pip recovers. 20 seconds. Steph dribbles the ball behind his back, trying to create space. No chance. 10 seconds. Curry drives, steps back, gets just an inch of space. Enough. Pippen is too late. The ball is lose. 8 seconds, 7, 6… Swish! Mayhem! Curry did it again. Against one of the best wing defenders in the history of the game, he gives his team a one-point lead.
Usually this might be it. 6 seconds to play, no timeouts left. But, BUT, there still is Michael Jordan. Unfazed by Curry’s heroics MJ picks up the inbound, Iguodala right on him. MJ crosses half court. 4 seconds. He hesitates… and drives. 3 seconds. Jordan stops on the dime, sends Iggy flying. 2 seconds. He rises. Perfect follow through. 1 second. Jordan stands, his arm extended, the wrist snapped – remember game 6 of the 1998 Finals? Buzzer! SWISH! Bulls win!
Stop Arguing, Start Enjoying!
The crowd goes wild. So do the Bulls. They’ve just won the ultimate clash. Yet the Warriors don’t seem defeated. They’re frustrated, yes, but they only lost by one point to one of the game’s best teams ever. Only thanks to the heroics of a guy who has destroyed so many dreams in the verge of his long, highly decorated career.
This ends way too well for the Bulls, you say? Their three-point shooting can’t keep up with the Warriors’. Green is too versatile for Rodman and Chicago’s small line-up wouldn’t have a chance against Golden State’s, you think? Or the other way round: There’s no way the Warriors would stop Michael Jordan in a big game like this. Chicago’s defense would present Golden State with so many problems that they’d struggle hitting threes. Well, you see. It’s hypothesis over hypothesis. No one knows. This was pure fiction. What stands out nonetheless, are these two teams. Two teams that are up there with the best there ever were. Two teams whose respective achievements shouldn’t be marginalized by playing them down, just to let your favorite squad’s star shine brighter. They both are unique. So stop arguing, start enjoying!