The Michael Jordan comeback is complete, and the United Center has come of age. For the fourth time, the Chicago Bulls are NBA champions. Observations from the clincher, and a historic season:
The glass was key
After dropping two straight in Seattle, it was evident from the jump the Bulls weren’t letting this one slip.
Their urgency was most stated on the boards, where they competed with fervor all night. As a team, they outrebounded the SuperSonics, a group that hung with them on the glass better than any team this entire postseason, 51-35 and 24-12 on the offensive glass.
Dennis Rodman did it again, notching 19 rebounds (11 offensive) and rallying the United Center crowd into a frenzy on multiple occasions – especially in the third quarter, as the Bulls stepped on the SuperSonics’ necks and pulled away for good. He is everywhere, always.
‘Team effort’ was the theme
This wasn’t the best Michael Jordan we saw this playoffs or throughout the 1990s (or his career). He finished Game 6 with 22 points on just 5-for-19 shooting – though he got to the charity stripe 12 times – and the series averaging 27.3 points on 41.5% shooting.
So when Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause preached that every player on this team contributed to this title on the trophy presentation stage, they meant it. Rodman tenacity on the glass popped off the screen all postseason. Scottie Pippen was every bit the defensive stalwart as advertised and led many a devastating fastbreak, to boot. Ron Harper was crucial to the team’s collective swarming defense and bounced back from playing just one minute in Game 5 to hit two crucial 3-pointers in Game 6. Toni Kukoc didn’t shoot well, but competed defensively and flashed his facilitating savvy often. Luc Longley displayed his mettle as a post defender. So did Bill Wennington (along with some timely midrange jumpers) and Spider Salley. Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler cropped up with timely jumpers when necessary. Randy Brown was steady off the bench. I won’t stop thinking about James Edwards’ handlebar for the rest of my life.
One player doesn’t yield an 87-13 total record in 100 games played, or the greatest defense of all time. As Jordan reiterated at the parade, this one was for those that hadn’t done it before.
And Jordan took home Finals MVP, anyways. It was clearly deserved.
Numbers that stood out (from the ‘96 run)
The Bulls employed the ’96 playoff leaders in points per game (Jordan; 30.7), rebounds per game (Rodman; 13.7), offensive rebounds per game (Rodman; 5.4) and steals per game (Pippen; 2.6), and faced the three leading players in turnovers per game (Alonzo Mourning, 5.3; Shawn Kemp, 4.0; Patrick Ewing, 3.8)
Rodman had two games in which he tied the Finals record for offensive rebounds per game (11) against the SuperSonics – Game 2 and Game 6
The Bulls boasted a +10.6 point differential in their 18 postseason games (going 15-3). They allowed the least points per game (86.8) of any team in the postseason
The Bulls averaged 16.3 offensive rebounds per game in the 1996 playoffs
The Bulls averaged 9.5 steals per game (2nd) and forced 18.2 opponent turnovers (1st) per game in the 1996 playoffs
I don’t want to do the advanced stats thing, but this one bears mention: The Bulls played at a PACE of 86.8 possessions per 48 minutes in the 1996 playoffs. In the 2019-20 season, the Charlotte Hornets ranked 30th in PACE with 96.2 possessions per 48
Michael Jordan became the first player in NBA history to take home regular season, All-Star game and Finals MVP honors in a single season
Snapshots from the clincher
Eddie Vedder, Bill Murray (Chicago native) and Oprah (again) comprised the celebrity roundup for Game 6
The Bulls clinched this, their fourth title, on Father’s Day. Jordan’s son Jeffrey brandished a sign for the NBC cameras in the third quarter as Wooly Bully blared from the speakers. That theme permeated Jordan collapsing to the ground, overcome with emotion, after the final horn sounded
And, man, was the trophy ceremony powerful. The roar of the UC every time Jordan, Rodman, Jerry Krause or Phil Jackson was deafening. Even through the obvious tension surrounding the contracts of Jordan, Rodman and Jackson, jubilance abounded. ‘MVP!’ chants for Jordan did, too. Need that atmosphere back
Count me as pro the “Only The Bulls” song, but the Superfans are officially cancelled. So is denim
I’m going to miss watching and writing about this team. On to ‘The Last Dance’ Sunday.
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Bulls observations: Greatest season of all-time ends with exclamation point originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago