The Top 5 0-2 Comebacks In NBA Playoff History

By: 06.05.12
Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett & Paul Pierce

Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett & Paul Pierce (photo.

Ninety-four percent of all playoff series that went to 2-0 were won by the team with the first two. When the figures about the teams that have escaped that hole and won are broken out, it’s never to inspire hope in a rally; instead that percentage is like hearing your probability of living after a grisly diagnosis. You have a 94 percent chance of not making it past the next month. Alert your kin. When we were bringing out those figures just a week ago in these NBA playoffs, though, we didn’t see the defibrillator being brought in the back door.

How else to explain the rise of the too-old Boston Celtics (2-2 entering tonight’s game against Miami) and the still-green Oklahoma City Thunder (up 3-2 on San Antonio)? In the case of the former, one-man show Rajon Rondo finally got the help from Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen missing so much in the first two. Out West, Thabo Sefolosha‘s two-way clinic in Game 3 stopped San Antonio in its tracks. By the time Game 5 happened last night, they were in disarray enough to force Gregg Popovich to try something he’d only done seven times before this season — start Manu Ginobili (the Spurs looked in sync late but their first-half confusion might as well have spotted OKC 10 points).

But this has happened before in the playoffs 14 times. It’s the first time since 2007 two teams have done it in the same postseason, and the first time since 2005 two teams have done it in the same round. We won’t try to jinx Boston or Oklahoma City, but here are the top five 0-2 comebacks in NBA playoff history.


5. 1993: Chicago over New York, 4-2, in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls had gone 15-2 in 1991 en route to a title and 15-7 in 1992 for a repeat. In ’92, they held off a Knicks team hell-bent to end that run in seven games in the East semis after New York had trailed 2-1. The three-peat would have to go through Madison Square Garden, again, in 1993, in a series between two of the best rivals in the game. This time, though, MVP Michael Jordan would have to lead Chicago out of a 2-0 hole.

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In Game 4, Jordan brought out a haymaker of a game with 54 points to get Chicago to the tie. He also did it with an injured shooting wrist. He’d go on to average 41 points per game in the finals, a title that wouldn’t have happened by putting his foot on the Knicks’ throat a second year in a row.

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1995: Houston over Phoenix, 4-3, in the Western Conference semifinals. That whole thinking that Charles Barkley was always the bridesmaid and never the bride (sorry for that mental image) came from this series. Two years after losing in the Finals to Chicago, and a year after coughing up a 2-0 lead against Houston in the Western Conference semis, Phoenix did it again.

Whiffing this bad two years in a row to the same team has to be some kind of cosmic karma, or at least is a valid reason why any Suns players would begin to believe in it. Houston went on to win its second straight NBA title after going 7 in this series. What made this one bizarre was the ease with which Phoenix took games 1 and 2. The margins in those games were 22 and 24 points — in Phoenix. The last dagger for Phoenix was by its own hand. Kevin Johnson had hit 21 free throws in a row in this game, but missed 27 to take the lead late.

3. 1969, Boston over Los Angeles, 4-3, in the NBA Finals. This wasn’t your typical comeback because it wasn’t your typical rivalry. Rather it was — and still is — the rivalry, largely because of the animus from this series, which was the sixth time they’d met for an NBA title. This goes down as one of the tightest series of all time with the largest winning margin of 13, but the other five decided by an average of 5.2 points per game. That includes the gut-wrenching final for Lakers’ fans, a 108-106 loss.

Jerry West was the Finals MVP, little consolation for another failure in the Finals for him, especially with Boston being coached by player-coach Bill Russell.

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