The Miami Heat’s quest for three consecutive NBA titles took a serious blow Thursday with a 107-86 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, but history shows that we shouldn’t count out LeBron James just yet.
Led by 20 points from Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs overcame a strong effort from James to take a 3-1 series lead over the Heat. Moreover, San Antonio has won each of the last two games in dominant fashion; they’re the only team since the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers to win two straight NBA Finals games by 19 points or more, according the Elias Sports Bureau.
To earn their third consecutive NBA title, the Miami Heat will have to accomplish a feat that no other franchise has managed in league history. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. However, such an occurrence is not impossible; in 223 NBA playoff series, eight teams have managed to pull off a comeback.
Historically, the Gregg Popovich-led Spurs have never failed to close out a series in which they held a 3-1 lead, and the Heat have never trailed 3-1 since the beginning of their “Big 3” era, the San Antonio Express-News reports. But the NBA Finals has produced its share of surprising comebacks against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Here’s a list of the four greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history.
1969 NBA Finals – Boston Celtics defeat Los Angeles Lakers
This matchup between the two hated rivals came of an unprecedented run in which the Celtics had won 10 of the previous 12 NBA championships. Despite that accomplishment, Boston found themselves down 2-0 to a Lakers squad that featured Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. Still, the Celtics rallied, becoming the first team in NBA history to comeback from a 2-0 deficit after a 108-106 win in Game 7. West, who averaged almost 38 points a game, became the first (and only) losing player to win Finals MVP.
1977 NBA Finals – Portland Trail Blazers defeat Philadelphia 76ers.
Nearly a decade later, the Trail Blazers repeated Boston’s feat, falling behind 2-0 to the 76ers. However, everything changed in Game 2, when Blazers forward Maurice Lucas got into a fistfight with 76ers star Darryl Dawkins. Bolstered by Lucas’ aggression, the Blazers rattled off four consecutive wins and secured an NBA title. Bill Walton was named Finals MVP after a dominant 20-point, 23-rebound performance in Game 7.
1988 NBA Finals – Los Angeles Lakers defeat Detroit Pistons
In 1988, the “Bad Boy” Pistons, led by Isiah Thomas, took on a Lakers squad that featured future Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy. The Pistons jumped out to a 3-2 lead, but an ankle injury to Thomas severely limited his effectiveness. The Lakers won the final two games of the series, earning an NBA title behind Worthy’s triple-double in Game 7.
2006 NBA Finals – Miami Heat defeat Dallas Mavericks
The 2006 Heat, led by the legendary Shaquille O’Neal and an upstart guard named Dwyane Wade, nearly didn’t earn their first NBA title in franchise history. Dirk Nowitzki and his Mavericks quickly gained a 2-0 advantage and held a commanding lead in Game 3 -- until Wade decided to take over. “Flash” scored 12 points in the fourth quarter to give the Heat a 98-96 win, and then led his team to victory in the next three straight games. For his efforts, which included a 34.7 points per game average, Wade was named Finals MVP.