When you think of the 1990s Chicago Bulls, the first thing that comes to mind is Michael Jordan, and rightfully so, he is the best player of all-time, in my opinion. But Scottie Pippen was a key piece as well. Pippen ran the point forward, but his big contribution was his ability to defend.
Pippen made seven NBA All-Defensive first Teams and one All-Defensive Second Team in his time with the Bulls. His ability to guard multiple positions was crucial for the Bulls. Pippen was 6’8″, athletic, and could move his feet very well and hand long hands to go along with it. Coach Phil Jackson used Pippen’s defense to change the complexity of a series.
1991 Bulls vs. Lakers
In the NBA Finals in 1991 against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Lakers won game one behind Magic Johnson‘s triple-double. After the game one defeat, the Bulls moved Scottie Pippen over to guard Johnson. The move was a big one for Pippen, he was almost just as tall as Johnson, so he could not see the passing lanes as well.
The one thing Pippen did in this series was pick Johnson up full court. Pippen made it difficult for Johnson to get the ball up the court. By the time Johnson would get the Lakers offense started, 10-14 seconds were already gone from the shot clock. In the series, Pippen helped force Johnson into 22 turnovers as the Bulls went in to win the series in five games.
1998 Bulls vs. Pacers
Now to the classic seven-game series against the Indiana Pacers in 1998. The Bulls were on the ropes early in game seven but battled back to win the series. Pippen’s task was to guard point guard Mark Jackson.
Pippen would pressure Jackson full-court until he picked his dribble as well as shade the passing lane so Jackson could not get the ball to Reggie Miller. Like he did against Johnson, sometimes the Pacers would get a late start into their offense. In games one and two, Pippen forced Jackson into 14 turnovers with hounding defense.
Pacers point guard Mark Jackson had this to say about Pippen’s defense, ” I don’t believe anyone in history could have played the type of defense on me that Scottie Pippen did. They don’t win if he doesn’t apply that pressure. It was genius of Phil to put him on me.”
Also, Bulls reserve guard Randy Brown added this, ” That Match up won us the series.” As you can see, Pippen’s defense could turn a series around, which makes him one of the great players in NBA history.