Celtics or '96 Bulls: Who's better?

Sean DutraContributor IDecember 20, 2008

The 2008-09 Boston Celtics seem to be unbeatable.

After a disappointing loss against a suddenly rejuvenated Denver Nuggets team back on November 14th, the Celtics have racked off 17 straight wins. During this incredible streak, the Celtics have won with their stifling defense, holding their opponents under 90 points 12 times.

Even though the big three's stats may not be up to their usual standards, they are emphasizing an all-around team effort. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins have bypassed expectations and are coming into their own. Along with solid bench production and a superior coaching staff, it is no wonder why the Celtics are the best team in the league.

If the Celtics win their next two games against the Knicks, and the injury-ridden Sixers, they will hold the best record to start a season in NBA history. But how do they compare to the all time great teams. Can they surpass the ‘95-96 Chicago Bulls record of 72-10, arguably the best team of all time?

Here I will break down player by player the current Celtics, to that great Bulls’ squad.

Point Guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Ron Harper

This is sort of a lopsided matchup on paper. Rondo is quietly making his case for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star Team. He is averaging 10.8 points per game while adding 5.0 rebounds per game and 7.6 assists. He is playing with a lot more confidence than he did on the championship run last year, and seems to be more comfortable finding the open man.

Harper was the definition of the role player back in the nineties. He was a solid starter and did the little things to help out Jordan and the gang. His stats are not eye-popping, but his contributions go way past that.

He rarely turned the ball over and averaged just over seven points a game. His assists and rebounds, at just about three apiece, are not great compared to Rondo.

Edge: In this match up the edge goes to Rondo. This is his breakout year and he will be one of the top-tier point guards in the league for years to come. Rondo's speed, quickness, and ability to get to the basket helps him out there also.

Shooting Guard: Ray Allen vs. Michael Jordan

Sorry Ray, you really have no chance here.

Obviously, the greatest to ever play the game outdoes the smoothest shooter to lace ‘em up, Jordan has the overwhelming advantage here.

Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. Scottie Pippen

I keep bouncing back and fourth about this one. Scottie Pippen was Jordan's right hand man in their dominance of the ‘90s. His pure athletic ability, defensive prowess, and shooting touch made him a perennial All-Star.

That season he put up nearly 20 points a game, while adding 6.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. Another thing that stood out about Pippen was his defense that contributed to about two steals a game.

No one benefited from the acquisitions of KG and Ray Allen more than Paul Pierce. He finally was able to shed the tag of best player on a horrible team, to one of the best all-around players in the game.

He is scoring 18.5 points a game, six rebounds per game, and four assists per game. The stats aren't up to his usual standards but the fact is; they are winning. His ability to hit the big shot when the game is on the line is almost unmatched in the league today.

Edge: I absolutely love Paul Pierce. He has a great work ethic, can get to the basket just as easy as he can hit the three, and his mid-range fadeaway is a thing of beauty. After saying that though, I give the edge here, by a slight margin, to Pippen.

Six championships are hard to argue against even if you were paired up with the best player of all time. Also he was named to the 50 greatest players list; so right now it’s Pippen (he can thank MJ for this one).

Power Forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Dennis Rodman

Garnett is one of the best pure power forwards of our time. Despite the fact he is putting up the lowest numbers since his rookie year, he still is an absolute vital part of this team. He has proven that he can still take over a game (just ask Al Horford), and that he will bring the same energy and hunger to win every day.

He still is putting in 17 points and nine rebounds, which is good for a 13-year veteran. His intensity on the defensive end rubs off on everyone around him.

Thankfully Rodman's absolutely god-awful hairstyles did not rub off on the rest of the Bulls. Say what you will about him though, you have to admit; the man could flat out rebound.

Rodman averaged 14.9 rebounds a game with nearly six of them coming from the offensive glass. This gave Jordan and everyone else on the team a bunch of second chance opportunities. His rebounding ability was all the Bulls needed and allows you to over look his extreme inability to score.

Edge: Kevin Garnett takes this one home. There really is no comparing these two. Garnett changed the face of the franchise while Rodman changed his hair color. Rodman does beat out Garnett in number of times seen in a wedding dress.

Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Luc Longley

Perk has slowly evolved into one of the scariest big men in the league. Having never been taught how to smile, his scowl after every block, rebound, or dunk makes you hope to never meet up with him in a dark alley.

He is producing with the double teams on Garnett, averaging 9.0 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He has also shed the label of being soft on defense, and is putting up almost two blocks a game.

Longley was quietly a solid starter for the Bulls. The wonder from down under averaged similar stats to Perkins, without the menacing demeanor. At 9.1 points and about five rebounds a game, Longley made use of his 7'2" frame. While never and All Star, he still was a solid contributor to the best team of all time

Edge: I give the edge here to Big Perk. The reason being is because he is able to get more open looks with Garnett getting most of the defense's attention. Longley had Rodman as his other big, needless to say no one was really looking to double him. Also I was scared of what Perkins would do to me if I didn't pick him.

Bench: Celtics- Leon Powe, Glen 'Big Baby' Davis, Eddie House, Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine vs. Bulls- Tony Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Jed Buechler, Dickey Simpkins, Randy Brown, Bill Wennington.

The Celtics’ bench has emerged as of late to be able to keep the lead that the starters have given them. When they don't they have to face the wrath of KG (am I right Big Baby?). Tony Allen has become a legitimate sixth man, Leon Powe can go off at any time, and Eddie House will always be ready to shoot. You do lose size and consistency when you put the second line in the game however.

The Bulls’ bench was huge. Tony Kukoc and Steve Kerr could have been starters on a lot of teams. Kerr was absolutely lights out from behind the arc, and Kukoc was a nightmare for opposing coaches. Randy Brown was an experienced floor general who could hold this second line together.

Edge: Bulls due to the fact that the Celtics don't really have those guys who can take over a game like Kukoc or Kerr could. The Celts’ have a solid group here but their inexperience sometimes is very noticeable. Also, I'm holding back my rant on why Scal is ever on the floor, but that is for another day.

Coaches: Doc Rivers vs. Phil Jackson

Doc has done just about a good of job as anyone could do with this group. He is able to get everything out of his players every night, which is hard to do over an 82-game season. He emphasizes defense, which has been the staple of the success of the C's and calls his fair amount of plays from the sideline.

I respect everything Phil Jackson has done as a coach, but seriously he is one of the luckiest, or smartest guys, however you want to think about it. I'm not talking about his triangle defense or his Zen approach to the game. I'm talking about the fact he was coaching the best player of all time.

He was smart enough to know that MJ was his ticket to coaching immortality. How hard is it to game plan when you knew that Jordan was going to take a majority of the shots. It is a little unfair to say that about a man who has more rings than anyone though.

Edge: I know many people will not agree with me on this but I'm going with Doc here. The reason I am picking Doc is because of the way he can develop young players with not a lot of talent and get the absolute most out of them.

Also, he is able to keep three superstars happy which in this day and age is absolutely unheard of. Doc's ability to relate and get through to this team is really hard to come by nowadays.

If you've been doing the math with me, you would see that the Celtics are winning 4-3 here. So, does that make them a better team than the Bulls? Here is when it gets a little complicated.

As a team, in the most basic definition of the term, I say yes. The starting five of the Celtics is one of the most well rounded groups ever to be assembled. Three future Hall of Famers, and two up-and-coming superstars is hard to argue against.

One thing the Celtics don't have though is obvious; it's good old number 23. MJ makes up for everything his teammates don't have and then some.

Putting all that into consideration, I believe that the Celtics will be better than those ‘95-96 Bulls. In the end it comes down to the team and that old phrase defense wins championships.

Next October when the Celtics are hoisting banner number 18 into the rafters, the ‘08-09 Celts will not only be among the greatest Celtics’ teams, but the greatest NBA teams of all  time.

-Sean Dutra



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