The greatest comebacks in NBA playoffs history

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

September 28th, 2020

The Denver Nuggets' season has come to an end, and with it hopes of one of the greatest comeback runs of all time. Had the Nuggets been able to come back in the Western Conference Finals from their 3-1 deficit after successfully doing so in their previous two rounds, it would have been a feat never before accomplished in league history.

In light of the Nuggets' heroic efforts, let’s take a look at the five greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history.

5) 2002 Conference Finals Game 4: Lakers vs. Kings

Big shot Robert Horry developed his nickname over the years by hitting multiple game-winning shots, but one in particular is forever seared into memory for the magnitude and drama that led up to it.

The Sacramento Kings had a 2-1 lead against the Los Angeles Lakers, and were leading by 24 points in Game 4 before a furious comeback. With just seconds left, Kings center Vlade Divac tipped a ball out that made its way to Robert Horry at the top of the key, and down two, Horry completed the comeback with a three that would even the series at 2-2 and propel the Lakers all the way through to another NBA championship.

4) 2012 Conference Semifinals Game 3: Spurs vs. Clippers

For a franchise known for failing in the NBA playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers added to that legacy in 2012 while playing the No. 1-seed San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals.

After dropping the first two games of the series, the Clippers had an opportunity to make things interesting by winning a pivotal Game 3, but after jumping out to a 24-point lead, flat-lined in the middle of the game and gave up a 24-0 run by the Spurs. The Clippers swept and to this day have proven incapable of advancing any deeper.

3) 2017 First Round Game 3: Cavaliers vs. Pacers

After winning NBA championships with the Miami Heat, LeBron James came home to try and get the city of Cleveland a title. In the 2017 first round, the LeBron-led Cavaliers wiped out a 74-49 halftime deficit against the Pacers to complete a spectacular comeback and sweep the series. James posted a 41-13-12 triple double in Game 3.

2) 2012 First Round Game 1: Clippers vs. Grizzlies

In a game I vividly remember watching Sportscenter replays of over and over once it had concluded, the Los Angeles Clippers pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks you’ll ever see.

Trailing 85-64 to the Grizzlies heading into the fourth quarter, it seemed impossible for the Clippers of all teams to be the club to make a comeback in such a circumstance, yet a 26-1 run propelled by Nick Young did just that. Reggie Evans played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter and grabbed eight crucial rebounds in the final frame as an undersized big to help pull off one of the most shocking comebacks in NBA history.

1) 2019 First Round Game 2: Clippers vs. Warriors

The No. 1-seed Golden State Warriors were already up 1-0 in their first-round series against the Clippers, and up 31 points in Game 2 when everything went off the rails. It was a dominating performance until Lou Williams came off the bench for the Clippers to kick-start the biggest deficit turnaround in playoff history. Montrezl Harrell also played an inspired fourth-quarter, putting up 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds. 

The Warriors overcame the collapse in the long-run, still finding their way to the NBA Finals, but for a team that had defined success during the decade it was a shocking outcome that earned them one more notation in the record books.