Michael Jordan Glove Problem: How Gary Payton’s Defense Changed the 1996 NBA Finals Between Bulls and Sonics

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Michael Jordan has rarely been the type to give credit where it is due. Yes ” The last dance“The point is, his results-oriented brain is not interested in appreciating those he has defeated en route to six championships. Jordan won. His opponents lost. He does not dwell on travel, only a singular destination, and as long as he has arrived there, he is perfectly willing to ignore those who have tried to get in his way, which includes, from episode 8 of “The Last Dance”, opponent of the 1996 NBA Finals Gary Payton.

“I had no problem with the Glove,” said Jordan disdainfully after Payton claimed to have changed the series with his incredible 4-6 defense. “I had something else in mind. “

Yes, it is true that 1995-96 was the first season that MJ played without his father by his side, and yes, it is true that game 6 of the 1996 NBA Finals was played on the holiday fathers, but Payton’s work was not limited to a single game. When the SuperSonics and the Seattle Bulls first met in a regular season, Payton held Jordan to 22 points on a 6 of 19 shot in a Sonics win. In the NBA finals’s three games in which Payton won his first posting to Jordan, His Airness had averaged just 23.7 points per game on 36.7% of shots from the field. In Chicago’s first 15 playoff games, Jordan averaged 32.1 points on 47.6% of the shots.

The numbers don’t lie. In fact, Jordan had a problem with the glove. So how did Payton defend Jordan so effectively? Let’s dive into the 1996 NBA Finals to find out.

Prologue: Why didn’t Payton defend Jordan throughout the series?

To call Gary Payton the greatest defensive point guard in NBA history is almost an understatement. Pound for pound, he is one of the best defenders the NBA has seen in any position. He has won the honors of the first total defense team for nine years in a row. He won the title of Defensive Player of the Year in 1996 despite the fact that the first All-Defensive team is 60% bulls (Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman).

But during the race from Seattle to the final, Payton tore a calf muscle and played less than 100%. Primary reserve and team leader Nate McMillan was also injured and Chicago has by far the best defense in the NBA. After Utah Jazz held the Sonics to just 89 points per game in the Western Conference finals, George Karl decided to prioritize the offense. Payton will not initially defend Jordan in order to save his energy for scoring. The results have been disastrous.

Payton had offensive difficulties, averaging just 15 points on a 40.4% shot, but Jordan failed. He roasted the other wings of Seattle, proving far too big for Hersey Hawkins in the post, but too fast for the biggest Detlef Schrempf with an average of 31 points over 46% of the field. Chicago won the first three games in the series, so a desperate Karl pulled the trigger and moved Payton to Jordan.

Games 4-6: Payton’s masterpiece

“Lots of people backed away from Mike,” said Payton in “The Last Dance.” ” I did not do it. I made a point, I said “just tire him out. Get the *** out of him. You just have to tire him out. I kept hitting him and hitting him and hitting and hitting him, and that had an impact on Mike. “

This principle governed all of Payton’s defensive strategy. He sent this message of physicality during the very first game of match 4.

That’s basically how Payton treated Jordan out of the ball in every game. The physics he played with were unheard of in modern play, and it was not just about chasing Jordan. Each time he had the ball in front of the basket, Payton took each turn out of the book. He slid relentlessly, checked by hand and led Jordan into traffic without giving him an inch of leeway.

Play Jordan who has narrowly served a number of purposes, but in his book, Furious George, Karl explained what he believed to be the greatest. It was a counterweight to one of Jordan’s iconic tics, his left strike.

“Pippen or Harper is throwing him to Jordan on the wing,” Karl started. “He grabs it and folds it up immediately, both hands on the ball, head up, elbows out. It’s not unusual, it’s the “triple threat” position that you learn in high school. You can shoot, pass or dribble from this semi-squatting position. Michael then “wipes” the ball, swinging it low and back and forth in response to the defender’s cribs. Again, everyone does. Then, almost every time, Michael taps with his left foot. This little scythe was the golfer’s stir, the thing he had to do before he could pull or attack the rim. “

Payton interrupted each step of this sequence. Swinging the ball made it difficult for Jordan to swing it low. Lack of physical space prevented jab-stepping. This completely disoriented Jordan, forcing him to rush the shots even when he managed to escape from Payton.

Playing physically in Jordan is a death sentence for normal defenders. He was so dangerous as a pilot that typical opponents played against him as a sign of respect. For example, see how his colleague Sonic David Wingate played it during a brief rest for Payton in Game 4.

Payton was so fast and so strong for his size that he could get away with things that normal defenders couldn’t. This allowed Seattle to be more aggressive in refusing Jordan the ball. Nowhere was his aggressive style and physical excellence more apparent than in his ability to get ahead of Jordan in the job.

Once Jordan has supported you one-on-one, he has already beaten you. No perimeter has ever scored so easily from the post, so the Sonics have urged Payton to deny him these opportunities. As a safety valve, they only threw doubles at Jordan when he managed to get the ball into the post.

There is ultimately no way to stop a player of the caliber of Jordan. He found ways to counter Payton’s aggressive defense. Quick and decisive basket cuts are the standard defense against post-fronting, so once the Bulls got hooked, they made it a point to look for lob passes that would generate lay-ups.

Jordan has a counter for just about everything, and he had to use each of them to counter Payton’s relentless defense. Even then, it was not his offense that ultimately won him this streak. Seattle became cold in Game 6, scoring just 75 points on 5 of 24 shots from behind the arc. Chicago only needed 87 points to win the championship. If the Sonics had a successful shot in Game 6, or if Karl had allowed Payton to defend Jordan from the start, this streak could have been completely different. Even in light of what really happened, it stands out as the best defensive streak of all players against Jordan.

The sequel: where Payton compares to other “Jordan stoppers”

The Bad Boys Pistons are perhaps Jordan’s greatest rival historically, and he himself called Joe Dumars the toughest defender he’s ever faced. Statistically speaking, however, Detroit never contained it in the playoffs as well as Payton.

vs 1988 Pistons

27.4

49.1

vs 1989 Pistons

29.7

46

vs 1990 Pistons

32.1

46.7

vs 1996 Sonics (Games 4-6)

23.7

36.7

Beyond the Pistons, there is no one with a consistent history of containing Jordan. Journeyman goalkeeper Gerald Wilkins was formerly known as the “Jordan stopper”, but in 39 career games, Jordan averaged 30.8 points out of 50.8 on the field. A number of players have had similar anecdotal success with larger team systems, such as John Starks and Vernon Maxwell, but neither the stats nor the scoreboard are reaching their favor.

No one can boast of a stretch against Jordan at his peak almost as successful as Payton. Whatever circumstances Jordan said bothered him in the 1996 final, no one can argue that Payton caused him trouble.



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