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The 15 Worst Playoff Collapses In NBA History

Why do we watch? If the NBA were predictable, it would simply be boring. Yet, as we all know just from this postseason alone, expect the unexpected. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Washington Wizards each blew double-digit second-half leads to their opponents this weekend, allowing the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers to either tie the series or take a commanding series lead.

In addition to Sunday’s dramatic games, we take a look back at the other worst playoff collapses in league history. This is why we watch:

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15. 2007 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 3
The Pistons and Bulls rekindled their rivalry from the 1990s, and it was Detroit that proved too much for Chicago this series. After taking a 2-0 lead, the Pistons found themselves on the verge of dropping their first game. They were down 19 points in the second half but clawed their way back and outscored the Bulls 53-30 in the final 24 minutes to take a dominate 3-0 lead. Tayshaun Prince finished with the double-double, scoring 23 points and adding 11 rebounds.

14. 2011 Western Conference First Round, Game 4
If this were deeper into the playoffs (and had more significance), it may have placed higher on the list. Nonetheless, Brandon Roy propelled the Blazers to one of the most memorable comebacks in recent memory against the Mavericks. Down by 23 points in the final quarter, Portland willed their way back and defeated Dallas, 84-82, to tie the series 2-2. Roy scored 18 points in the last 12 minutes to lead the assault, while his team held the Mavs to 15 points.

We miss B-Roy.

13. 1986 Eastern Conference First Round, Game 1
The Bullets came into the postseason with a 39-43 record and trailed the three-seed 76ers by 17 points with just three minutes and 49 seconds remaining in Game 1 of the first round. Remarkably, Washington went on an 18-0 run to win the game, 95-94, capped off by a Dudley Bradley buzzer-beating three-pointer.

12. 1994 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 2
Choke City. This was The Houston Chronicle’s headline following the Rockets’ 20-point blown lead to fall in a 2-0 hole against the Phoenix Suns. They were outscored 40-13 in the final 15 minutes and lost 124-117 in overtime. Charles Barkley tallied a game-high 34 points for the Suns while Hakeem Olajuwon led the Rockets with 31.

Despite their early struggles, the Rockets won the series, which ultimately led to their first NBA title in franchise history and their new and improved nickname, “Clutch City.”

11. 1995 NBA Finals, Game 1
The young Magic squad jumped out to a 20-point lead before the veteran Rockets woke up while in the second quarter and began to play some basketball. By the fourth quarter, Orlando had surrendered their lead all together but managed to force overtime. Yet, the talent of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler proved too much for a 23-year-old Shaq to handle. The Rockets would sweep the Magic 4-0 and capture their second consecutive NBA title.

10. 2012 Western Conference First Round, Game 1
In the Clippers’ first playoff game since 2006, they found themselves down 27 points to the Grizzlies, cutting it to a mere 21 after three quarters. With Chris Paul and sophomore star Blake Griffin leading the way, Los Angeles began to take form of the team we are accustomed to seeing now. They outscored Memphis 35-13 in the fourth quarter, including a 26-1 run in which Nick Young (!) drained three three-pointers.

After Rudy Gay’s missed jumper with 0.9 seconds remaining, leading to the final buzzer sounding off, the Clippers performed an act of magic, making a 24-point lead with a little over nine minutes left simply vanish to win the game.

9. 1992 NBA Finals, Game 6
The Blazers were on the brink of forcing Game 7 against the Bulls and took a 79-64 lead into the fourth quarter. Without Michael Jordan on the floor, Chicago began to inch their way back into the game and by the time MJ checked in, his squad was in striking distance. The Bulls held the Blazers to just 14 fourth quarter points as Jordan and Scottie Pippen combined for 59 points to win their second consecutive NBA title.

8. 2000 Western Conference Finals, Game 7
The Lakers were on the brink of one the biggest collapses in league history. After taking a 3-1 series lead, the Blazers stormed back to win the next two games and force Game 7, in which they led by 15 points in the second half.

Yet, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal combined for 43 points and 20 rebounds to rally back and take Los Angeles to their first NBA Finals since 1991. Following the game, Bryant proudly exclaimed, “This is what makes champions.” He was right, as he led his squad to their first title since 1988 and the first of five rings during the Kobe era.

7. 2002 Western Conference Finals, Game 4
Robert Horry had hit a number of big shots during his career before this game, but this will probably forever go down as his most legendary game-winner. The Lakers trailed by 24 in this one against Sacramento and a loss would’ve put them in an impossible 3-1 hole. But they continuously chipped away at the lead and on the game’s final possession, caught a break when Vlade Divac tapped a rebound right to Robert Horry. This shot might’ve decided the championship.

6. 1989 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 4
Miraculously, the Lakers came to life. Down by 29 points after just 14 minutes of play in Game 4 of the second round against the SuperSonics, it appeared that Los Angeles would be unsuccessful in defeating Seattle and completing their second consecutive playoff sweep. Yet, they began to hit shots. They began to play defense and managed to put together a 16-0 run to end the first half. From there, the surge continued and after an 18-6 run in the fourth quarter, they took the lead and never relinquished it, defeating Seattle, 97-95, in the historic game.

5. 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 3
“It was purgatory, it might have been closer to Hell for three quarters, but that last one was Eden. Damn, that was great,” Jim O’Brien said afterward.

The above quote from the Celtics head coach accurately describes the setting. The Nets had a 74-53 lead and were entering the final quarter of play, but that was when The Truth struck. Paul Pierce led Boston to outscore New Jersey 41-16 in the fourth, dropping 19 points in that frame after missing 12 of his first 14 shots. The future Hall of Famer finished with a game-high 28 points as the Celtics beat the Nets, 94-90, to complete the biggest fourth quarter comeback in playoff history and take a 2-1 series lead.

4. 1978 NBA Finals, Game 1
Freddie Brown pulled off improbable heroics as he sparked an extraordinary comeback to guide the SuperSonics past the Bullets’ 19-point fourth quarter lead. The guard dropped 16 points in the final nine minutes of the contest to lead Seattle to the Game 1 victory.

3. 1967 NBA Finals, Game 5
Although Philadelphia would eventually win their first title, it did not come as easy as it should have. Wilt Chamberlain and the 76ers were leading the Warriors 96-84 heading into the fourth quarter, just 12 minutes away from basketball glory. Yet, San Francisco fought back and scored an impressive 33 points in the final quarter, holding the Sixers to just 13 points and forcing them to shoot 3-of-17 from the field. Rick Barry finished with a game-high 36 points while Chamberlain hit a lowly 2-of-12 free throws as the Warriors won, 117-109.

2. 2008 NBA Finals, Game 4
It must have been destiny. The Celtics rallied from a 24-point deficit to beat the Lakers and put them within one win of an NBA title, which became the first for living legends Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. It was reminiscent of the two teams’ battles in the ’60s and ’80s and surely had the star power on each side. Boston’s Big Three held Kobe Bryant to just 17 points while forcing him to shoot a lowly 6-of-19 from the field.

1. 2006 NBA Finals, Game 3
Ah, and the Mavs got burned again. Already up 2-0 in the series against the Heat, Dallas blew their 13-point lead with just six minutes remaining in regulation. After Gary Payton’s three-pointer with 9.3 seconds to go gave Miami the lead, Dirk Nowitzki missed a free throw that would have tied the game with three ticks left on the clock. The 24-year-old Dwyane Wade performed at the highest-level, attacking the Mavericks for 42 points as part of his eventual Finals MVP performance.

What was the worst collapse in NBA Playoff history?

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