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 1April 5Boston Celtics127@ Philadelphia 76ers118
Game 2April 10Philadelphia 76ers115@ Boston Celtics106
Game 3April 11Boston Celtics114@ Philadelphia 76ers122
Game 4April 14Philadelphia 76ers110@ Boston Celtics105
Game 5April 15Boston Celtics122@ Philadelphia 76ers104
Game 6April 17Philadelphia 76ers106@ Boston Celtics114
Game 7April 19Boston Celtics100@ Philadelphia 76ers96

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 1March 25Phoenix Suns112@ Los Angeles Lakers128
Game 2March 29Phoenix Suns114@ Los Angeles Lakers101
Game 3April 2Los Angeles Lakers98@ Phoenix Suns112
Game 4April 4Los Angeles Lakers102@ Phoenix Suns112
Game 5April 5Phoenix Suns121@ Los Angeles Lakers138
Game 6April 7Los Angeles Lakers104@ Phoenix Suns93
Game 7April 9Phoenix Suns94@ Los Angeles Lakers129

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 1May 4San Antonio Spurs118@ Washington Bullets97
Game 2May 6San Antonio Spurs95@ Washington Bullets115
Game 3May 9Washington Bullets114@ San Antonio Spurs116
Game 4May 11Washington Bullets102@ San Antonio Spurs118
Game 5May 13San Antonio Spurs103@ Washington Bullets107
Game 6May 16Washington Bullets108@ San Antonio Spurs100
Game 7May 18San Antonio Spurs105@ Washington Bullets107

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 1April 21Philadelphia 76ers105@ Boston Celtics104
Game 2April 22Philadelphia 76ers99@ Boston Celtics118
Game 3April 24Boston Celtics100@ Philadelphia 76ers110
Game 4April 26Boston Celtics105@ Philadelphia 76ers107
Game 5April 29Philadelphia 76ers109@ Boston Celtics111
Game 6May 1Boston Celtics100@ Philadelphia 76ers98
Game 7May 3Philadelphia 76ers90@ Boston Celtics91

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 1May 9Houston Rockets108@ Phoenix Suns130
Game 2May 11Houston Rockets94@ Phoenix Suns118
Game 3May 13Phoenix Suns85@ Houston Rockets118
Game 4May 14Phoenix Suns114@ Houston Rockets110
Game 5May 16Houston Rockets103@ Phoenix Suns97
Game 6May 18Phoenix Suns103@ Houston Rockets116
Game 7May 20Houston Rockets115@ Phoenix Suns114

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 1May 7New York Knickerbockers88@ Miami Heat79
Game 2May 9New York Knickerbockers84@ Miami Heat88
Game 3May 11Miami Heat73@ New York Knickerbockers77
Game 4May 12Miami Heat76@ New York Knickerbockers89
Game 5May 14New York Knickerbockers81@ Miami Heat96
Game 6May 16Miami Heat95@ New York Knickerbockers90
Game 7May 18New York Knickerbockers90@ Miami Heat101

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 1April 20Orlando Magic99@ Detroit Pistons94
Game 2April 23Orlando Magic77@ Detroit Pistons89
Game 3April 25Detroit Pistons80@ Orlando Magic89
Game 4April 27Detroit Pistons92@ Orlando Magic100
Game 5April 30Orlando Magic67@ Detroit Pistons98
Game 6May 2Detroit Pistons103@ Orlando Magic88
Game 7May 4Orlando Magic93@ Detroit Pistons108

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 1April 23Los Angeles Lakers102@ Phoenix Suns107
Game 2April 26Los Angeles Lakers99@ Phoenix Suns93
Game 3April 28Phoenix Suns92@ Los Angeles Lakers99
Game 4April 30Phoenix Suns98@ Los Angeles Lakers99
Game 5May 2Los Angeles Lakers97@ Phoenix Suns114
Game 6May 4Phoenix Suns126@ Los Angeles Lakers118
Game 7May 6Los Angeles Lakers90@ Phoenix Suns121

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 1May 4Los Angeles Clippers117@ Houston Rockets101
Game 2May 6Los Angeles Clippers109@ Houston Rockets115
Game 3May 8Houston Rockets99@ Los Angeles Clippers124
Game 4May 10Houston Rockets95@ Los Angeles Clippers128
Game 5May 12Los Angeles Clippers103@ Houston Rockets124
Game 6May 14Houston Rockets107@ Los Angeles Clippers119
Game 7May 17Los Angeles Clippers100@ Houston Rockets113
Images: Source