Bulls

The Pecking Order: Top 5 Bulls Bench Mob performances of ’96 Playoffs

The Pecking Order: Top 5 Bulls Bench Mob performances of ’96 Playoffs

The “Bench Mob.” A popular nickname for a group of reserves on Bulls teams in the early 2010s. Good Bulls teams. Deep Bulls teams. While most of the attention, and deservedly so, falls on Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman as we reminisce with NBC Sports Chicago’s #BullsRewind series, the Bench Mob of an historic 72-10 team in 1996 was pretty darn good. And they deserve some love, too.

I’m still stuck social distancing, and so are you. But let’s enjoy some greatly underappreciated pieces of the dynasty together. Here are some of my favorite bench performances from the Bulls’ playoff run in ’96.

It’s the Pecking Order.

1. Steve Kerr – Game 1 vs Orlando, ECF

This is the performance that inspired this column. Particularly, Stevie’s fourth quarter performance. The Bulls had the victory well in hand, as Magic players not named Shaq or Penny forgot to show up for this one. You call them “garbage time” minutes, I call them “Steve Kerr’s MVP minutes.”

In 17 minutes, Kerr finished with 14 points on 5-7 shooting, including 4-5 from downtown. Even more impressive, he stuffed the rest of his stat sheet with six assists, four rebounds and three steals. One of those assists was a beautiful no-look behind-the-back bounce pass to a cutting Bill Wennington for a dunk. After another assist, this one coming after Kerr stole the ball and fed Randy Brown a bounce pass for an easy layup, commentator Bill Walton said, “Steve Kerr’s playing like John Stockton out here! He’s just toying with guys!” He wasn’t wrong.

The one basket Steve made that wasn’t a triple was a crafty layup after a surprisingly quick ball fake and drive that left Penny Hardaway in his dust. Just wow.

God I love Steve Kerr so much. What a gift to basketball.

2. Bill Wennington – Game 5 vs New York, ECSF

The stat line for Billy won’t bowl you over in this one – four points, four rebounds, three assists and one block in 24 minutes – but the most important number is the last one. 24 minutes was a greater ask than usual for Wennington, who averaged just 15 minutes per game in the ’95-96 regular season and only 9.4 minutes per game in the ’96 playoffs. But the Bulls needed a body in the frontcourt. Why? Because the ‘90s Knicks threw all the muscle they had at the Bulls in their last gasp attempt to stave off elimination.

These Knicks were brutally physical to play against. Trying to contain Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing was one thing, but they also threw former Bull Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason at you. Just so much body. As a result, the Bulls starting frontcourt of Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley fouled out in 31 and 23 minutes, respectively. While John Salley and James Edwards were fun additions to this season’s roster (how many former Bad Boy Pistons can you fit on one Bulls team?) they weren’t as useful as Wennington, whose midrange game kept defenses honest.

My favorite part about this game from Bill? The three assists, which highlighted one of the criminally underrated elements of his game: for a big guy, he was a very talented passer. A nice piece to have in Tex Winter’s triangle offense.

3. Jud Buechler – Game 4 vs New York, ECSF

Winning Game 4 at Madison Square Garden was critical. The Knicks held on for an overtime win in Game 3. If the Bulls had lost this one and gone back to Chicago for Game 5 with the series tied, all of a sudden the Knicks have dangerous levels of confidence. Maybe they use that confidence to steal Game 5. You never know.

But the Bulls hung on to win Game 4 by a narrow margin, 94-91. If Jud Buechler – always my favorite piece of the late ‘90s Bench Mob – doesn’t go a perfect 3-3 from the field for six points in just five minutes of action, the Bulls lose this game. It seems silly to frame it like that, but it’s true.

And it perfectly describes how I always viewed “Buchy”: a scrappy player who maximized every one of his minutes.

4. John Salley – Game 1 vs Orlando, ECF

It wasn’t just Stevie who had fun torching the Magic down the stretch of this Game 1 blowout. John Salley, just days after his 32nd birthday, got seven solid minutes of run while the Bulls iced this one.

Salley was added to fill out the frontcourt depth of a roster in a time when frontcourt depth mattered a lot more. But he was also added for reasons that went beyond the dimensions of court. He was a great locker room veteran, and a comfortingly familiar friend for an increasingly volatile and unpredictable Rodman. That mattered.

But when he got on the floor, he often proved he could still contribute. On this night, he did it to the tune of eight points on perfect 4-4 shooting, adding two rebounds, two assists and a block. Give it up one time for ol’ Spider!

5. Toni Kukoč – Game 1 vs Seattle, Finals

The quintessential “Sixth Man” game. The Bulls set the tone for the Finals with a 107-90 Game 1 masterpiece that told the story of their season of unprecedented dominance: MJ and Scottie combined to score 49, starting role players Ron Harper and Luc Longley combined for 29 more, Dennis had 13 rebounds while establishing residence in the heads of every Sonics player…and? The Croatian Sensation chipped in with 18, four and four off the bench. This was the model for the Unbeata-Bulls, and they executed to a T in Game 1.

Toni was a crucial part of that system, and it’s what earned him the ’95-96 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award. His season-long numbers were nearly identical to his performance in Game 1, except for a slightly higher point total in this game.

As an honorable mention, Toni followed that up with another strong performance in Game 2, which the Bulls desperately needed. In a much tighter contest that the Bulls won 92-88, The Waiter served up 11, five and five. Somebody tip this man, and make it at least 20 percent.

The fun continues tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, as the Bulls will have to come from behind against a shorthanded but determined Magic team in Game 2 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals. Tipoff at 7pm Central. Join the in-game conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #BullsRewind.

Thanks for reading. See red, be good, stay healthy.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: NBA, NHL seem close to return, MLB lurks in distance

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: NBA, NHL seem close to return, MLB lurks in distance

Laurence Holmes, David Haugh and Jay Cohen join Kap on a Memorial Day edition of SportsTalk Live.

0:00 - It looks like we’re getting closer to the return of team sports. The NBA is in talks to resume its season at Disney World, while the NHLPA approved a 24-team playoff format.

5:00 - MLB and the players continue to negotiate their restart plan.

13:00 - Sam Smith tells a San Francisco radio station the Michael Jordan lied in “The Last Dance” when he said he would have considered returning.

20:00 - The guys share their favorite non-title clinching moments in Chicago sports history.

Listen here or below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Top 'Last Dance' moments to get you through first Sunday without Michael Jordan

Top 'Last Dance' moments to get you through first Sunday without Michael Jordan

So you’re sitting around Sunday night, missing “The Last Dance.” We get it, we wish it was still on too.

To help us all get through this first week without it, we’ve compiled some of our favorite “Last Dance” stories so that we can remember the good times together.

Whether it’s your first time seeing some of these, or just a fun look back, we hope you enjoy.

Recounting the best quotes from “The Last Dance”

We’ve got Jordan, we’ve got Kobe Bryant, we’ve got Dennis Rodman-- and yes we’ve even got some Carmen Electra for you.

Michael Jordan jamming to different songs takes over Twitter

If there was one thing more fun than simply watching “The Last Dance,” it was talking with your friends and family about “The Last Dance.” Some of the after-show interviews with athletes, coaches and pundits added incredible insight. And sometimes a memelord would create something so fun that you couldn’t help but watch and laugh. This is one of those latter moments.

Rod Thorn: Michael Jordan didn’t ask for Isiah Thomas to be left off Dream Team

One of the biggest beefs in basketball has a light shined on it. But after all this time, there are still conflicting reports as to what happened back in 1992.

Did Utah pizza give Michael Jordan food poisoning and was it intentional?

The “flu game” is one of the most iconic performances in Michael Jordan’s career, but now we’ve learned it wasn’t the “flu game” at all! Certainly one of the most intriguing new wrinkles out of all the details we learned across the series.

Scottie Pippen on Jerry Krause: ‘The greatest general manager in the game’

The beef between Pippen and Krause was well documented, especially early in the series. But by the end even Pippen had to give it up for Krause.

Why Scott Burrell appreciated Michael Jordan's harsh leadership style

Arguably the most emotional moment we saw during Jordan’s interviews was when he described his leadership style with his teammates. It’s clear Jordan pushed the Bulls very hard, and it’s easy to see how it could rub some people the wrong way. But not Scott Burrell.

How Bulls helped Scottie Pippen earn millions more on way out of Chicago

After one early episode of “The Last Dance,” many people on social media were incredulous that Pippen’s long-term contract was never renegotiated considering his important contributions to the team. However our K.C. Johnson set the record straight for how the Bulls made things right with Pippen when he was on his way out of town.

Why running it back would not have yielded the Bulls a seventh title in 1998-99

To finish this post off, we’re going back to K.C. Johnson who tells us why the 1998 title would’ve been the last for the Bulls dynasty, no matter if Jordan, Jackson and co. returned, or not.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.