The greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history

Profile Picture: Jason Ence

July 15th, 2021

Playoff comebacks are always exciting, especially on the biggest stage. A comeback in an earlier round can make you a hero, but true legends are born when they take place in the NBA Finals, and they can alter the course of a series.

Let’s take a look at the five best single-game comebacks in NBA Finals history.

5. Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks, Game 3, 2006

With a 2-0 series lead and a 13-point advantage with just 6:30 left in Game 3 of the 2006 Finals, the Dallas Mavericks appeared to be closing in on an insurmountable lead in the series.

Down 89-76, Dwyane Wade took over the game, after he told his teammates, “I ain’t going out like this." The Heat outscored the Mavs by 10 points over the next three minutes, as Wade and Shaquille O'Neal made key baskets — and even a pair of free throws from the big man — down the stretch.

Miami took a 95-93 lead, but Dallas tied the game with 33 seconds remaining. Wade was smothered by the Dallas defense, but Gary Payton stepped up to hit a mid-range jumper with nine seconds left. Dirk Nowitzki was fouled with three ticks remaining, but surprisingly missed the second attempt, and Wade followed suit at the other end to keep it a two-point game.

However, Wade made the game-saving play, as he deflected an alley-oop pass that would have tied the game. The comeback propelled the Heat to four straight victories and the franchise's first NBA title.

4. Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs, Game 6, 2013

With just 28 seconds remaining, San Antonio appeared to be moments away from a 4-2 series win and another NBA title.

Up by four points, Manu Ginobili headed to the free-throw line to ice the game, as some fans headed to the exits. However, he made just one of his two shots, and LeBron James made a three-pointer with 20 seconds to go.

After a quick foul on Kahwi Leonard, he also missed one of his two attempts, which gave Miami the ball, down three points, with 19 seconds left. After a missed three from LeBron, Chris Bosh grabbed the rebound and kicked it to a backpedaling Ray Allen, whose corner jumper with less than six seconds remaining forced overtime.

In the extra period, the Heat was able to hold on and win, 103-100, after the Spurs missed a last-second three.

The Spurs not only saw the game slip away, but the title, as well, as they lost Game 7.

3. Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Game 4, 2008

The largest single-game comeback in the NBA Finals over the last 40 years, the Boston Celtics trailed the Lakers by 24 points on the road in the third quarter, after they were outscored, 35-14, in the first quarter.

The Lakers led, 45-21, in the second quarter and were up 72-57 with just 4:30 left in the third, as they seemed destined to even the series at 2-2.

The Celtics ended the third quarter on a 21-3 run, which cut the score to 73-71. Spurred by 35 points from their bench, the Celtics took their first lead of the game with four minutes remaining and did not relinquish it, as Allen and Kevin Garnett made huge shots down the stretch.

The Celtics clinched their title in Game 6.

2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics, Game 7, 2010

Two years later, it was the Lakers’ time to turn things around.

Boston was headed to another championship, and led the Lakers, 49-36, with just more than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Kobe Bryant was having a terrible game, with just six made baskets on 24 attempts, and Boston had all the momentum.

Pau Gasol then stepped up to carry his team, with 19 points and 18 rebounds, including nine at the offensive end, and a Lamar Odom tip-in at the buzzer cut the deficit to just four points heading into the fourth quarter.

The Lakers completed a 32-15 run and took a 68-64 lead midway through the fourth, on a Derek Fisher three. A three from Ron Artest with just a minute remaining gave the Lakers a six-point lead and buried the Celtics.

1. Houston Rockets vs. Orlando Magic, Game 1, 1995

By far the wildest comeback on this list, the Houston Rockets trailed, 57-37, in Orlando with just 3:35 remaining in the first half, and the young Magic looked to be in cruise control.

However, Clyde Drexler took over and helped Houston cut the deficit to just 11 points at the break. Drexler was helped by Hakeem Olajuwon, who scored 31 points, and Kenny Smith, who made an NBA Finals record seven three-pointers, including a single-quarter record five in the third.

The Magic led by just seven points at the start of the fourth quarter, but was still in terrific position.

With just 10 seconds left, Nick Anderson headed to the free-throw line, with his team up three points. He missed both of his attempts, but he got the offensive rebound off his second miss and was fouled again. He somehow missed both of those attempts, as well, and Smith’s three-pointer with two to go left forced overtime.

The Magic tied the game with just 5.5 seconds remaining in overtime, but Olajuwon iced the comeback, as he tipped home a missedn layup from Drexler with just three-tenths of a second remaining.

The loss utterly demoralized the Magic, and Houston swept the series.