With a dominant 125-104 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies on April 13, the defending champion Golden State Warriors have accomplished what no other team in the history of the National Basketball Association has ever done: reached 73 wins in a single regular season.
With basketball immortality achieved, the question must be seriously begged by fans of professional basketball around the world: Where do the Warriors compare to the 1995-96 Bulls, the team whom they took the record from? Heck, even the old pros are getting in on the debate, with former Bulls’ great Scottie Pippen publicly stating that his Bulls would sweep the Warriors in a seven-game series.
Truthfully, the question may be impossible to answer. The landscape in which the 1995-96 Bulls wreaked havoc across the league, with 72 wins and two separate runs of three consecutive championships, was vastly different than today. The Bulls played a slower, tougher and more fundamental game compared to the current era of fast-breaks and the infatuation with the 3-point shot. They also had Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, arguably the best three-man combination to ever field a team outside of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team.
On the other hand, the Warriors play their brand of basketball better than anybody in the current era. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are absolutely unbelievable shooters and playmakers. Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green play well enough down-low to make up for the Warriors lack of a truly dominant big man. The Warriors have used these advantages to average an astounding 114.9 points per game, nearly 10 points higher than the Bulls 105.2.
The most noticeable difference between the two teams, however, may fall on defense. Over the years, the NBA has tightened rules on defenders to promote player safety and, as many people believe, scoring. First, rules were implemented to increase penalties for flagrant fouls in 1990 and 1993. These changes were followed by more rules which eliminated hand checking, forearm checking and off-ball contact with offensive players, both in the front and back court.
These changes have fundamentally altered the nature of the game from a battle in the trenches to a battle of finesse. In a seven-game series, the Warriors would be tormented by the unrelenting, physical brand of defense put on by Jordan, Pippen and Rodman.
“The Warriors play their brand of basketball better than anybody in the current era.”
The Warriors live and die by the 3-point shot, a style of play that requires free movement of guards on the perimeter, something that defensive rule changes make much easier. The Warriors have mastered it, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson owning five of the top 10 records 3-pointers in one season, all taking place in the last three years. Curry and Thompson would surprise Jordan and the Bulls with a level of deep shooting that they had never seen anything close to and would be bothered by the inside opportunities that would come from having to commit from defending the perimeter.
With both teams holding advantages in different categories, I believe that a series between the 1996 Bulls and the 2016 Warriors would be far more competitive than Pippen cares to admit. The outside shooting and spread-out offense of the Warriors would not be silenced by the Bulls’ defense. I also believe, however, that the Bulls’ physicality, extremely talented bench and intense mental grit would be too much for their modern-day counterparts to endure. Curry and company would be given a harsh lesson in history, putting up a resilient effort but ultimately falling to the greatest-of-all-time Bulls in the series 4-2.