Over 18 playoff games in 1996, the Bulls held their opponent under 80 points the same number of times — three — that they allowed 100 or more points. And the Knicks needed overtime to produce one of those century mark outputs.
The Bulls’ defense, well, never rested.
“It’s been unbelievable,” said current radio analyst and then reserve center Bill Wennington on reliving the run.
And Wennington said he’s only been intermittently tuning in to watch what he lived 24 years ago.
Watching the rebroadcasts of the 1996 playoff run has been a revelation and a reminder. The Bulls possessed so many different manners in which to smother teams defensively and match up against virtually any player and opponent. The job Dennis Rodman did on a 24-year-old Shaquille O’Neal in Game 1 is just one example.
What other team could use a 6-foot-7 power forward in single coverage on the 7-1 behemoth of Neal?
“Just the rotations and how everyone worked together, whether it was Michael (Jordan) or Scottie (Pippen) or Ron Harper. I hate to say it, even Toni Kukoc with his olé defense was making the right adjustments at the right time,” Wennington joked. “The different lineups that (coach) Phil (Jackson) could go with — small with Dennis or Toni at center or big with me and Luc (Longley) and James Edwards. Every guy on the floor barring the 7-footers could guard pretty much anyone on the floor.”
And this played out most spectacularly when the Bulls unveiled any variation of their fullcourt pressure, a favorite tactic of legendary assistant coach and defensive mastermind Johnny Bach.
The Bulls needed it in Game 2, which airs Friday at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago, overcoming a large third-quarter deficit to prevail. How’d you like to try to bring the ball up against the length and athleticism of Jordan, Pippen and Rodman?
The Bulls led the NBA by allowing just 86.8 points during their title stampede. They also enjoyed a plus-7.9 advantage in rebounding. Those are ingredients for playoff success in any era.
Bach, whose twin brother was lost on an airborne mission during World War II, used to sometimes end his video edits with an ace of spades — the card of death — on a rifle butt to signify an enemy kill.
Dramatic? Perhaps. But symbolic, too, for the dominance his defense displayed consistently.
Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.