NBA playoffs are a complete rollercoaster ride every season. The league has seen many miraculous moments completely changing a pretty one-sided series. Once a team gets an early lead in the series and is up 3-1, it’s not easy to stop them from advancing to the next round.
Winning three games on the trot after trailing 3-1 is a feat only a few teams have ever mustered. Trying to mount a comeback with no margin for error is not only a physically daunting task but also mentally exhausting. Among the few that have managed to climb the mountain were the LeBron James-led 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers, who overturned a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals to win the first title in franchise history.
However, the Cavaliers are the only team to have achieved that feat in the NBA Finals. They are part of an exclusive list that features only a dozen other teams. Let’s take a look at teams who managed to beat the odds and win a playoff series after trailing 3-1.
13 Teams have come back from 3-1 deficit in playoffs
NBA teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit only 13 times in the playoffs so far. Here’s a list of all the teams who have achieved this feat:
1968 Boston Celtics
The 1968 Boston Celtics were the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit. And, they pulled off this feat against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals and later won the championship against the Los Angeles Lakers too.
1970 Los Angeles Lakers
The 1970 Los Angeles Lakers made a successful comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference semifinals against the Phoenix Suns. They later reached the NBA Finals but unfortunately, the New York Knicks didn’t let them get their hands on the championship.
1979 Washington Bullets
The 1979 Washington Bullets had a special regular season. But they found themselves down 3-1 against the San Antonio Spurs in the Eastern Conference Finals. But they did not give up. The Bullets went on to win the final three games of the series to earn a trip to the NBA Finals. They found themselves down 3-1 again in the NBA Finals against the Seattle Supersonics, however, lightning did not strike twice and they lost the series 4-1.
1981 Boston Celtics
The 1981 Boston Celtics swept the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals but went down 3-1 against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Conference Finals. But Larry Bird and his team successfully ran a comeback and turned around the 3-1 deficit. They went on to win the franchise’s 14th NBA title with a 4-2 series win against the Houston Rockets.
1995 Houston Rockets
The 1995 Houston Rockets were the defending champions. But the road wasn’t quite easy for them. They were down 3-1 against the Charles Barkley-led Phoenix Suns in the 1995 Western Conference Semifinals. But they successfully came back from a 3-1 deficit and later won their second title on the trot.
1997 Miami Heat
The 1997 Miami Heat ran a successful comeback against the New York Knicks in the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals. They made a comeback from a 3-1 deficit and helped a lot by suspensions handed out due to a fight between the players.
2003 Detroit Pistons
The 2003 Detroit Pistons were struggling against the young squad of Orlando Magic in the first round. But they successfully returned from a 3-1 deficit to advance to the semis. They managed to beat the 76ers 4-2 but were later swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by the New Jersey Nets.
2006 Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns were unexpectedly losing against the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of playoffs. But they didn’t quit and eventually came back from a 3-1 deficit. But the Dallas Mavericks called curtains on their run in the Western Conference Finals.
2015 Houston Rockets
The 2015 Houston Rockets were caught off-guard by Blake Griffin-led Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Clippers build a 3-1 lead but blew it and lost the series in seven. The Rockets’ season ended in the Western Conference Finals, where they were beaten by eventual champions Golden State Warriors.
2016 Golden State Warriors
The 2016 Golden State Warriors were a historic team. They had the best regular season ever but went on to lose the NBA Finals after getting a 3-1 lead. But during their journey to the Finals, they were almost eliminated by the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook-led Oklahoma City Thunder, who led a 3-1 lead after Game 4. The Warriors dug deep and won three games on the trot to advance to their second-straight NBA Finals.
2016 Cleveland Cavaliers
The 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers made a successful comeback in the NBA Finals and sent it straight to the history books. They became the first team to win the championship after trailing 3-1 in the Finals. They ironically beat the team who reached the Finals after overturning a 3-1 deficit.
2020 Denver Nuggets (twice)
The 2020 Denver Nuggets are the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit twice in the same playoff run. They first surprised everyone by beating the Utah Jazz in seven games after trailing 3-1. They later caused the upset of the season by beating one of the title favorites Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals after going down 3-1.
Ritik Malik is an NBA writer at FirstSportz. He started following the basketball game around two years ago; since then, Ball has been Life for him. His idol is Kobe Bryant, he follows Mamba Mentality and aims to improve every day. Beside Basketball, he is also interested in E-sports, Cricket, Tech, Metaverse, and the business world.
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