NBA Playoffs – Comebacks & Chokers of a 3-1 Series Lead or Deficit

Houston Rockets 2015

The Houston Rockets become the ninth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in a playoff series, hoping to become the fourth that actually wins a championship carried by that momentum. The Los Angeles Clippers join the notorious club of choke-jobs needing just one more win. Doc Rivers knows a thing or two about that.

1968 Boston Celtics

Some Russell and Chamberlain battles
Some Russell and Chamberlain battles

That Celtics team that struggled so hard to beat the Philadelphia 76ers in an epic division finals (those days’ conference finals) beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-2 in the finals, winning the franchise’s 10th NBA title, their ninth in 10 years.

Game 1 April 5 Boston Celtics 127 @ Philadelphia 76ers 118
Game 2 April 10 Philadelphia 76ers 115 @ Boston Celtics 106
Game 3 April 11 Boston Celtics 114 @ Philadelphia 76ers 122
Game 4 April 14 Philadelphia 76ers 110 @ Boston Celtics 105
Game 5 April 15 Boston Celtics 122 @ Philadelphia 76ers 104
Game 6 April 17 Philadelphia 76ers 106 @ Boston Celtics 114
Game 7 April 19 Boston Celtics 100 @ Philadelphia 76ers 96

1970 Los Angeles Lakers

In the division semifinals (there were only three playoff series back then) the Lakers ran into trouble against the Phoenix Suns, starring Gail Goodrich, Connie Hawkins and Paul Silas. But the Lakers rallied, clinching game 7 with a terrific performance from Wilt Chamberlain (30 points). They went on to the finals, losing in seven games to the New York Knicks.

Game 1 March 25 Phoenix Suns 112 @ Los Angeles Lakers 128
Game 2 March 29 Phoenix Suns 114 @ Los Angeles Lakers 101
Game 3 April 2 Los Angeles Lakers 98 @ Phoenix Suns 112
Game 4 April 4 Los Angeles Lakers 102 @ Phoenix Suns 112
Game 5 April 5 Phoenix Suns 121 @ Los Angeles Lakers 138
Game 6 April 7 Los Angeles Lakers 104 @ Phoenix Suns 93
Game 7 April 9 Phoenix Suns 94 @ Los Angeles Lakers 129

1979 Washington Bullets

The defending champions needed seven games to get past the Hawks in the conference semifinals, and things were just as difficult in the conference finals, barely moving on to the finals, where they were routed by the Seattle Supersonics in five games.

Game 1 May 4 San Antonio Spurs 118 @ Washington Bullets 97
Game 2 May 6 San Antonio Spurs 95 @ Washington Bullets 115
Game 3 May 9 Washington Bullets 114 @ San Antonio Spurs 116
Game 4 May 11 Washington Bullets 102 @ San Antonio Spurs 118
Game 5 May 13 San Antonio Spurs 103 @ Washington Bullets 107
Game 6 May 16 Washington Bullets 108 @ San Antonio Spurs 100
Game 7 May 18 San Antonio Spurs 105 @ Washington Bullets 107

1981 Boston Celtics

Larry Bird shooting over Julius Erving
Larry Bird shooting over Julius Erving

One of the truly great playoff series of the 1980’s, the Boston Celtics had to go through the closest thing to hell by barely beating the Philadelphia 76ers in the conference finals before a much easier NBA finals, beating the Rockets in six games, the first of three championships in the Larry Bird era. Five of the games in that series were decided by just one or two points.

Game 1 April 21 Philadelphia 76ers 105 @ Boston Celtics 104
Game 2 April 22 Philadelphia 76ers 99 @ Boston Celtics 118
Game 3 April 24 Boston Celtics 100 @ Philadelphia 76ers 110
Game 4 April 26 Boston Celtics 105 @ Philadelphia 76ers 107
Game 5 April 29 Philadelphia 76ers 109 @ Boston Celtics 111
Game 6 May 1 Boston Celtics 100 @ Philadelphia 76ers 98
Game 7 May 3 Philadelphia 76ers 90 @ Boston Celtics 91

1995 Houston Rockets

Sir Charles after another playoff disappointment
Sir Charles after another playoff disappointment

The ‘never underestimate the heart of a champion’ was said after winning the championship in the finals against the Orlando Magic, but coach T was talking about the conference semifinals, as the Rockets managed to come back from a 3-1 deficit against the Phoenix Suns. They won games 5 and 7 on the road, getting 29 points from Olajuwon and Drexler each. The 46 points from Kevin Johnson weren’t enough in the series decider.

Game 1 May 9 Houston Rockets 108 @ Phoenix Suns 130
Game 2 May 11 Houston Rockets 94 @ Phoenix Suns 118
Game 3 May 13 Phoenix Suns 85 @ Houston Rockets 118
Game 4 May 14 Phoenix Suns 114 @ Houston Rockets 110
Game 5 May 16 Houston Rockets 103 @ Phoenix Suns 97
Game 6 May 18 Phoenix Suns 103 @ Houston Rockets 116
Game 7 May 20 Houston Rockets 115 @ Phoenix Suns 114

1997 Miami Heat

There wasn't a lot of basketball in that series
There wasn’t a lot of basketball in that series

In one of the nastiest series in NBA history, the Miami Heat managed to claw their way back from the brink of going to summer vacation and turn the series around, getting 38 points from Tim Hardaway in game 7 of that series, before going on to lose in five games to the Chicago Bulls in the conference finals.

Game 1 May 7 New York Knickerbockers 88 @ Miami Heat 79
Game 2 May 9 New York Knickerbockers 84 @ Miami Heat 88
Game 3 May 11 Miami Heat 73 @ New York Knickerbockers 77
Game 4 May 12 Miami Heat 76 @ New York Knickerbockers 89
Game 5 May 14 New York Knickerbockers 81 @ Miami Heat 96
Game 6 May 16 Miami Heat 95 @ New York Knickerbockers 90
Game 7 May 18 New York Knickerbockers 90 @ Miami Heat 101

2003 Detroit Pistons

This was the first postseason with 7 games in the first round. This was also a time when the West was a lot better than the East. The Pistons fell two games behind Tracy McGrady and the Orlando Magic (coached by Doc Rivers). But game 5, in which the Magic were held to just 67 points, seemed to not just turn the tide, but break the Magic completely. The next two games were routes, capped off by 37 points from Chauncey Billups in the finisher. The Pistons went on to lose in the conference finals against the Nets. Swept by them, not just lose.

Game 1 April 20 Orlando Magic 99 @ Detroit Pistons 94
Game 2 April 23 Orlando Magic 77 @ Detroit Pistons 89
Game 3 April 25 Detroit Pistons 80 @ Orlando Magic 89
Game 4 April 27 Detroit Pistons 92 @ Orlando Magic 100
Game 5 April 30 Orlando Magic 67 @ Detroit Pistons 98
Game 6 May 2 Detroit Pistons 103 @ Orlando Magic 88
Game 7 May 4 Orlando Magic 93 @ Detroit Pistons 108

2006 Phoenix Suns

Kobe Bryant carried what people like to refer as a bunch of nobodies in the frustrating part of his post-Shaq years. He was incredible that season, including his famous 81-point game against the Raptors in the regular season. He seemed on a mission to prove something to Steve Nash, the league’s MVP. But the Suns were a much better team. And Bryant pretty much quit on his teammates in the final game, not giving anything close to his all in a 31-point loss in game 7.

Game 1 April 23 Los Angeles Lakers 102 @ Phoenix Suns 107
Game 2 April 26 Los Angeles Lakers 99 @ Phoenix Suns 93
Game 3 April 28 Phoenix Suns 92 @ Los Angeles Lakers 99
Game 4 April 30 Phoenix Suns 98 @ Los Angeles Lakers 99
Game 5 May 2 Los Angeles Lakers 97 @ Phoenix Suns 114
Game 6 May 4 Phoenix Suns 126 @ Los Angeles Lakers 118
Game 7 May 6 Los Angeles Lakers 90 @ Phoenix Suns 121

2015 Houston Rockets

After the Rockets lost games 3 and 4 by a combined 58 points, it seemed like it was lights out for them. But then came a bounce back game at home with the Clippers seemingly resting up before closing the series. And then the huge comeback (19 points down) of game 6 happened. Game 7 was theirs right from the start, taking them to the conference finals for the first time since 1997.

Game 1 May 4 Los Angeles Clippers 117 @ Houston Rockets 101
Game 2 May 6 Los Angeles Clippers 109 @ Houston Rockets 115
Game 3 May 8 Houston Rockets 99 @ Los Angeles Clippers 124
Game 4 May 10 Houston Rockets 95 @ Los Angeles Clippers 128
Game 5 May 12 Los Angeles Clippers 103 @ Houston Rockets 124
Game 6 May 14 Houston Rockets 107 @ Los Angeles Clippers 119
Game 7 May 17 Los Angeles Clippers 100 @ Houston Rockets 113
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