When we’re talking about the Chicago Bulls dynasty in the 90s, Michael Jordan immediately comes to mind. But if we are to ask Reggie Miller who’s the one critical piece responsible, especially for the team’s last two championships, he would say Scottie Pippen. And he had a solid argument to back his claim.
Not just Michael Jordan’s sidekick
Miller was asked who he would pick to guard Stephen Curry in a hypothetical matchup. He did not hesitate to chuck Pippen’s name into the mix. To beef up his point, Miller harked back to the Bulls’ last two championships — the one where they ousted the Utah Jazz twice.
“Probably Scottie Pippen. I would go with Scottie. Because if you go back in those series where he won [NBA championships] — twice against Utah — it was his defense on John Stockton. They were going to take the point guard out. The series versus us in the Conference Finals, Phil Jackson said, ‘take Mark Jackson out.’ It’s like he goes to the head of the snake. If you can take him out, that’s going to disrupt the rest of their offense. I think they would put Scottie on Curry and have that length really disrupt him,” Miller said, per the Dan Patrick Show.
What drives home Miller’s point is that he saw how Pippen locked down point guards with his own eyes. Miller’s Indiana Pacers faced the Bulls in the 1998 Conference Finals. As Miller noted, Pippen was assigned to guard Mark Jackson. Statistics reveal that the Pacers guard struggled in that series as he averaged just 5.9 assists, way below his season average of 8.7 and playoff average of 8.3.
Stopping Magic Johnson
Assigning Pippen to the opposing team’s point guard was a strategy implemented very early on by Phil Jackson. As early as the Bulls’ first championship in 1991, Pippen was tasked to guard Magic Johnson — perhaps the greatest point guard of them all. The thing is, unlike Stockton or Jackson, Magic stood 6’9 and had the playmaking chops better than the two combined.
While the 1991 NBA Finals were Pippen’s first, it wasn’t his baptism of fire. It was a declaration that he had arrived. Guarding Magic was his introductory course to defending point guards. It taught him the tricks of the trade early on. Undoubtedly, he carried all those learnings in his matchups with Jackson and Stockton.
This is a fine point by Miller that could trump Warriors fans’ belief that their team would stump Bulls. Pippen has guarded the best guards in NBA history. He would find a way to contain Curry by hook or crook.