Depending on who you’re rooting for, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of watching an NBA team make a ferocious comeback. To see a group pull together and block out the noise to scrape and claw their way back into the game is proof that no matter the odds stacked against you, anything is possible. The truth is, sometimes we forget this. Which is why it’s a good thing we have the 2016 NBA playoffs.
In Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round clash with the Indiana Pacers, the Toronto Raptors were quick to remind us. “We were getting our butts kicked, and I thought we were going to go down with the guys that were swinging,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “They were just scrapping and that is what the playoffs are about.”
At one point in the contest, Toronto found itself down 17 points. Yet, after pulling off the 102-99 win, the Raptors officially secured the largest playoff comeback in franchise history. Pretty impressive, right? As you can imagine, this particular accomplishment got us thinking about other postseason comebacks. With that, here’s a look at the three largest single-game comebacks in the history of the NBA Playoffs.
3. Boston Celtics (3) vs. New Jersey Nets (1), 2002 Eastern Conference Finals
Final score: Celtics 94, Nets 90
Deficit: 26 points
In Game 3 of 2002 Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics found themselves in a bit of a pickle. Despite the series being tied 1-1, the team in green faced seemingly insurmountable odds, trailing the East’s No. 1 seed by as many as 26 points in the third quarter. That’s not exactly how a club wants to perform on its home floor.
Of course, when you have a player like Paul Pierce on your side, no lead is ever impossible to overcome. With Pierce leading the way, scoring 19 fourth-quarter points and finishing with a game-high 28 points, the Celtics outscored the Nets 41-16 in the final 12 minutes of the contest on their way to a 94-90 win.
This victory gave Boston a 2-1 lead in the series. Unfortunately for Celtics fans, the Nets would get the last laugh, winning the series in seven games. Still, no one can say the underdog didn’t put up a solid fight.
2. Los Angeles Clippers (5) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (4), 2012 Western Conference First Round
Final score: Clippers 99, Grizzlies 98
Deficit: 27 points
On April 29, 2012, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers took the floor for Game 1 of their first-round showdown. By the time the first quarter ended, the Clips were already in a major hole, down 34-16. Toward the end of the third quarter, things got even worse for the visiting team, at one point trailing by as many as 27 points. But something happened at the start of the fourth quarter — the Clippers stole the show.
In the final frame of the night, Los Angeles outscored Memphis 35-13 and ended the game on a 28-3 run. When it was all said and done, Chris Paul and company overcame a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to steal Game 1 by the score of 99-98.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Seattle SuperSonics (4), 1989 Western Conference Semifinals
Final score: Lakers 97, Sonics 95
Deficit: 29 points
The 1989 Western Conference semifinals between the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers and the fourth-seeded Seattle SuperSonics proved to be an incredibly one-sided affair. As the history books will note, the team from Hollywood swept this particular best-of-seven series. But what folks may not know is that the Lakers actually had to work for it.
On May 14, 1989, during Game 4, the Lakers found themselves down 29 points just 13 minutes and 15 seconds into the contest. While that’s not exactly a fourth-quarter deficit, it’s still quite a hill to climb. In the end, however, on the back of a 33-point, seven-rebound effort from James Worthy, LA would fight its way back into the game, eventually pulling off the 97-95 comeback win.
Had the Detroit Pistons not swept the Lakers in the NBA Finals, perhaps someone would’ve written a screenplay about this. Such is life.