The expression “It’s not over until it’s over” rings true in all sports, especially basketball. You see, a professional basketball game is 48 minutes long, leaving enough room for lead exchanges and ups and downs. It’s not uncommon for NBA teams to recover and mount runs at any point in the game, and some, end up in epic comebacks. With this in mind, here are the 15 greatest comebacks in NBA history in the regular season, playoffs, and NBA Finals. Are you ready for this roller coaster ride?
5 Best NBA Regular Reason Comebacks
There are over 2,400 games played by all NBA teams in a regular season, unless, of course, during lockouts or emergencies such as the ones caused by the pandemic. That massive amount of games provides a lot of possibilities for exciting and unpredictable outcomes, including remarkable comebacks. Here are 5 of the biggest NBA comebacks ever that happened in the regular season.
1. Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets, 36-point comeback (November 27, 1996)
If the lead is even bigger than the other team’s score in the middle of the game, everybody must be thinking of their dinner plans at that point. Well, not John Stockton, Karl Malone, and the rest of the Jazz. Utah was down 70-34 at one point until they scored two more points for a 70-36 deficit by halftime. To make the long story short, the Jazz won 107-103 to complete the largest comeback in the history of the NBA.
2. Tracy McGrady’s 13 points in 33 seconds (December 9, 2004)
Any basketball fan knows it’s just a formality if a team like the Spurs is up by eight with just 30-something seconds left. After all, this team was the defending champs and had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili in their primes. That’s true 99.9% of the time; the only variable in this true story was Tracy McGrady. T-Mac scored 13 points in 33 seconds, capped by a huge three-pointer to capture the lead, 81-80, with 1.7 seconds remaining. This is hands-down of the best NBA 4th quarter comebacks of all time.
3. Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics, 29-point comeback (March 3, 2023)
A common denominator in these comebacks is that the supposedly “better” team gets buried by an inferior squad early and then manages to climb up a hole they dug. In this case, it’s the opposite. The new-look Nets post-2023 trade deadline was down by 28 after trailing 51-23. Over the next 31 minutes, they outscored the Boston Celtics 92-54 and completed a massive comeback that tied for the biggest in franchise history. The final score was 115-105 in favor of the Nets, where Mickal Bridges introduced himself as Brooklyn’s main guy with 38 points.
4. Sacramento Kings vs. Chicago Bulls, 35-point comeback(December 21, 2009)
Make no mistake, the Kings in 2009 were in the middle of the biggest postseason appearance drought in the NBA when they pulled off a rare highlight. Led by Tyreke Evans, Sacramento came back from 35 points down to beat the Chicago Bulls featuring a young Derrick Rose on December 21, 2009. Evans led five Kings in double figures with 23 points, while Ime Udoka had 17.
5. Dallas Mavericks vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, 29-point comeback (December 30, 2008)
Sure, the Wolves sucked this season, but leading 29 points in the third quarter would have been a cakewalk, right? Apparently, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Dirk Nowitzki didn’t think so. The Mavs trio led a furious rally that ended up being a win for Dallas, 107-100.
5 Best NBA Playoffs Comeback
Generally speaking, it’s harder to mount a comeback in the playoffs because teams have the luxury to prepare for each other down to the minute details. But just because it’s more difficult doesn’t mean they don’t happen. Here are the biggest NBA comebacks ever in the playoffs:
- LA Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors, 31-point comeback (Game 2, Round 1, 2019 NBA Playoffs)
This year was the downfall of the KD-Steph Warriors in the Finals, but it was more injury issues than anything else. However, one blip in Golden State’s radar in this year’s playoffs was the massive loss in Game 2 against the Clippers in Round 1. The score was 94-63 at the 7:29 mark of the third quarter, thanks to Durant’s barrage of threes and an and-one. The Dubs could’ve just gotten bored, who knows, but the record sticks: This is the largest NBA playoff single-game comeback in league history.
- Los Angeles Lakers vs Seattle Supersonics, 29-point comeback (Game 4, Round 2, 1989 NBA Playoffs)
The Magic-Kareem Lakers were obviously the better team, but after finding themselves in a 29-point hole, they had to dig deep. They eventually did, finishing the job, 97-95. In the Final interview, Abdul-Jabbar broke down the science of their historic comeback: play great defense, never give up, and hope that the more inexperienced team plays tentatively after taking a big lead.
- Boston Celtics vs. New Jersey Nets, 26-point comeback (Game 3, 2002 Eastern Conference Finals)
The East was the relatively weaker conference during this era, but that doesn’t mean fans were not treated to some nail-biting games. In Game 3 of the ECF, Boston was down 26 points in their homecourt and looked like they were about to implode. The Celtics had to climb back to a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to steal this game, 94-90, but unfortunately, they still succumbed to the Nets in six.
To give you an idea of how extraordinary this comeback was, no team in NBA history of the playoffs came back from a 19-point deficit in the fourth quarter. These happened 171 times before this game, and all trailing teams lost.
- Houston Rockets vs. LA Clippers, 19-point comeback (2015 Western Conference Finals)
Have you ever seen someone come back from the dead? This is the closest you’ll ever get. Not only were the Rockets fighting for their very lives because of a 3-1 deficit, they were almost knocked out cold by the Clippers with an early blow. In fact, the Clippers were up 19 in the second half and 12 with over seven minutes left in the fourth. The Rockets won 119-107, and the Clippers never recovered, losing to Houston in Game 7. If someone does not believe in curses, this is tangible proof of one.
- Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers, 26-point comeback (2017 NBA Playoffs, Round 1)
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, so LeBron James made sure he didn’t have to. Cleveland was on its way to getting buried with the Paces holding a commanding 74-49 lead at halftime, and at one point, were leading by 26. Bron went crazy in the second half, scoring 28 points and finishing with a 41-point triple-double, mostly with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the bench. Greatness!
5 Best NBA Finals Comeback
There’s no biggest stage in professional basketball than the NBA Finals. More often than not, the games were toe-to-toe and down to the wire, but sometimes, we see epic comebacks that make the win that much sweeter. Here are the NBA Finals’ 5 best comebacks ever:
- Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers (24-point comeback in Game 4 of 2008 Finals)
The 2008 NBA Finals were won by the Celtics by finishing off the Lakers in a beatdown in Game 6. But look back at the series and you’ll figure out Game 4 was the turning point. The Lakers were up by 24 in the third, but the Celtics came storming back to steal the game and a 3-1 series lead. The Lakers couldn’t recover mentally and eventually succumbed to their archrivals. Final score: 97-91.
- Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat (15-point comeback in Game 2 of 2011 NBA Finals)
The Mavs were down by as much as 15 points early in the fourth to Miami, but Dallas orchestrated a comeback that ended up in a tie, 96-96, with 20 seconds remaining. Dirk Nowitzki then scored on a lefty layup to win it for Dallas.
- Houston Rockets vs. Orlando Magic (20-point comeback in Game 1 of the NBA Finals)
The 1995 NBA Finals was supposedly Shaq’s coming out party, and it looked like it for a moment. The Magic built a 20-point lead in the first half, and victory was imminent. However, Kenny Smith– yes, that Kenny Smith– went hot and hit a Finals record seven threes in this game to lead a comeback. The Rockets ended up winning and setting the tone, 120-118, thanks to a tip-in by Hakeem Olajuwon with 0.3 seconds left.
- Chicago Bulls vs Portland Trailblazers (15-point 4Q comeback in Game of 1992 NBA Finals)
Nobody really thought the Blazers were the Bulls’ equals, but the series was awfully close. In fact, Portland were up by 15 at the start of the fourth. Michael Jordan was benched early in the final quarter and saw the Bulls creep closer inch by inch, thanks to Scottie Pippen’s efforts. Jordan re-entered the fray with the Bulls in the middle of a 12-0 run, and the rest was history.
- Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics (13-point comeback in Game 7 of the NBA Finals)
Game 7s are normally ugly, but this was on another level. Kobe Bryant shot horribly for the Lakers, and so the scoring cudgels were picked up by Pau Gasol and, of all people, Ron Artest. Boston was up by as much as 13 early in the third quarter, but Los Angeles battled inch by inch until they avenged their 2008 Finals loss to their bitter rivals, 83-79. It’s not the biggest comeback in NBA finals history, but it was huge in the context of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry.
Wrapping Things Up: 15 Greatest Comebacks in NBA History
Basketball is a cardiac game that involves a lot of roller-coaster moments– one second, you’re up, and you’re down the next. This unpredictability made the game exciting, and the NBA is full of these heart-wrenching comebacks from the regular season to the NBA Finals.
Some of the greatest comebacks in NBA History were the 36-point recovery by the Jazz in 1996, the 31-point comeback by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2019 NBA playoffs, and the 24-point rally by the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals. These are the biggest NBA comebacks ever in the regular season, playoffs, and NBA Finals, respectively. Perhaps more will be in store in the future, but for now, feast on these 15 comeback moments to pump up your day!
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