1996 Chicago Bulls vs 2004 Detroit Pistons

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This would be an absolute defensive war, with maybe the best two teams defensively in this entire tournament. Both teams have excellent individual defenders with brilliant rotations and help defence. Detroit has the edge in the more clearly defined player roles, but Chicago has the edge in terms of their players being more complete. Can the 04 Pistons beat what is regarded by many as the best team of all time?

“Defence wins championships.”, right? But will it be enough to get out of the first round of the greatest NBA team of all time playoff? There is no question that defence is what both these squads pride themselves on. Let’s have a look at the starting line-ups:

04 Pistons

96 Bulls

Ben Wallace Luc Longley
Rasheed Wallace Dennis Rodman
Tayshaun Prince Scottie Pippen
Richard Hamilton Michael Jordan
Chauncey Billups Ron Harper

Just looking at the starters, and I think Detroit could contain the Bulls. Put Prince on Jordan, help off of Longley if MJ or Pippen get into the lane, and make Harper beat you from the outside. They wouldn’t completely stop MJ, or consistently contain Pippen, but they could make it difficult enough to give themselves a chance. Now, of course, this all changes when the Bulls actually use their best line-up

04 Pistons

96 Bulls

Ben Wallace Dennis Rodman
Rasheed Wallace Toni Kukoc
Tayshaun Prince Scottie Pippen
Rip Hamilton Michael Jordan
Chauncey Billups Ron Harper

I’ve gone with Harper over Kerr because of Harp’s ability to stifle opposing point guards. Billups was brilliant in 04, and playing Kerr for extended minutes against Chauncey is playing with fire. If need be, you can still play Kerr if you need him to spread the defence with his shooting, but just do it in limited periods. Rodman isn’t a scorer, but his offensive rebounding and underrated passing still make him somewhat of a threat offensively (or at least more valuable than Longley). Kukoc is a problem on the defensive end for the Bulls. You wouldn’t want him isolated with Rasheed Wallace, so they’d probably put him on Ben Wallace or Prince. Ben Wallace would crash the boards with Kukoc on him, so I’d put him on Prince, have Pippen on Rasheed, and Rodman controls Ben Wallace. Jordan would clamp down on Hamilton, or Billups if he starts to get going (which I doubt, because the Bulls played the pick and roll so well against Utah, who were the best in the history of the game at that play…). There just isn’t enough offensive firepower from Detroit to hang with the Bulls. The Bulls on the other hand have Jordan, Pippen, and Kukoc, who are all defensive nightmares. Couple that with Rodman getting them second chance opportunities, and their ability to force turnovers and get points off turnovers, and this turns into a mismatch rather than classic matchup.

We can’t dismiss the revenge factor for Jordan who would love nothing more than to get further payback on Detroit after their dominance over him and Chicago early in his career. That 96 Bulls team was ruthless. When they smelt blood in the water, they capitalised on the situation. It’s impossible for a team to go 72-10 in the regular season and 15-3 (and were 14-1 at one point after taking a 3-0 lead over the Sonics) in the playoffs without having ice in their veins. Detroit was a tough and gutsy team, but they struggled with New Jersey and Indiana before hitting the jackpot in the NBA finals against a depleted and imploding Lakers team.

Final Verdict: The 1996 Bulls win emphatically 4-0 over the 04 Detroit Pistons.