We’ve seen LeBron James do some incredible things over the years. But with his Cleveland Cavaliers down 25 points at halftime against the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of their 2017 first-round series, the King added another accomplishment to his already legendary status. He led the defending champs to the greatest second-half comeback in the history of the NBA Playoffs.
James finished the night with a remarkable 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. And the Cavaliers pulled off the stunning victory by the score of 119-114. In discussing his superstar’s incredible performance, Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue had this to say: “LeBron willed us home, 41, 12 and 13, played the whole second half. That’s what playoff basketball is all about. You got to be willing to sacrifice and lay it on the line to win a game, and that’s what he did for us.”
As sensational as this second-half comeback was, it’s hardly the first time teams overcame massive deficits in NBA Playoff history. In fact, some clubs are able to do it in just the fourth quarter. See for yourself.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans, 2015 Western Conference First Round
- Final score: Warriors 123, Pelicans 119 (OT)
- Fourth-quarter deficit: 20 points
Just when it appeared as if Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans would roll to a Game 3 victory in the 2015 NBA Playoffs, the Warriors decided that a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit wasn’t anything they couldn’t overcome. Behind 40 points on the night from Stephen Curry and 28 points from his fellow Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, Golden State rallied to take the game in overtime, 123-119.
It’s not as if Davis didn’t come to play that night. He provided the Pelicans with a 29-point, 15-rebound performance. It’s just that the final quarter belonged to the visiting team, who once again showed why they were the top squad in the NBA. Curry’s crazy three-pointer with seconds remaining sent the game into overtime and capped a remarkable comeback that saw Golden State outscore New Orleans 39-19 in the last quarter.
In a season filled with incredible moments, there was no reason for the road team not to be excited about what they had done. Following the improbable win, Curry reiterated the importance of this game: “You know how big of a deal it is to come back from a deficit like that in the playoffs on the road, in a game we knew was very important for us to really take control of this series. So I think we should celebrate the accomplishment.”
To say what the Warriors did was an accomplishment would be an understatement (oh, and they won the NBA championship, too). This was only the third time ever in postseason play that a team overcame a 20-point deficit when entering the final frame.
(1) New Jersey Nets vs. (3) Boston Celtics, 2002 Eastern Conference Finals
- Final score: Celtics 94, Nets 90
- Fourth-quarter deficit: 21 points
On May 25, 2002, the Boston Celtics made a furious comeback against the then-New Jersey Nets in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics entered the fourth quarter down 21 points, but they were not about to lose on their home floor. They also had one thing the Nets didn’t: Paul Pierce.
The former Kansas Jayhawk started off the contest missing 12 of his first 14 shots. Apparently, he wanted to save his best for last. Pierce finished the game with 28 points, including 19 points in the fourth quarter, and the Celtics outscored the Nets 41-16 in the final frame.
While speaking with reporters following the historic comeback, Pierce said, “At the start of the fourth quarter we just wanted to fight and make a statement for the next game that we’re going to be a team to be reckoned with. I think we did more than make a statement.”
The Celtics went on to lose the series six games, but not without a fight. And that’s the truth.
(5) Los Angeles Clippers (5) vs. (4) Memphis Grizzlies, 2012 Western Conference First Round
- Final score: Clippers 99, Grizzlies 98
- Fourth-quarter deficit: 21 points
During the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers decided to make some history of their own on April 29, 2012. Down 85-64 at the start of the fourth quarter of Game 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies, Chris Paul never stopped believing in his team. He knew the Clippers had what it took to fight their way back into the contest. And they didn’t disappoint.
Los Angeles went on to outscore the Grizzlies 35-13 in the final period, connecting on five three-pointers and making 13-17 shots from the field. The Clippers also got some serious play out of their reserves, with Nick Young leading the way. He came off the bench to score a team-high 19 points and connect on three of his four shots from beyond the arc.
This complete team effort allowed Los Angeles to steal the momentum on the road, and they eventually took the series in seven games.