There is nothing more exciting in sports than the comeback. Across all pro sports leagues, comebacks have enthralled fans for generations, none more so than in the NBA.
Given the back-and-forth nature of the game, momentum can shift quickly and lead to jaw-dropping finishes.
From the largest to smallest market squads, fans have regaled in the mastery of the comeback on display over the years.
Here are the biggest comebacks in NBA history – broken down by regular season, playoffs, Finals, and more.
Table of Contents
- Biggest Regular Season Comeback
- Biggest Comeback in NBA Playoff History
- Biggest Comeback in NBA Finals History
- Biggest 4th Quarter Comeback
- Biggest Comebacks in the Final Two Minutes
- Biggest Comeback in the Final 10 Seconds
Biggest Regular Season Comeback
- Matchup: Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets (November 27th, 1996)
- The Comeback: 36-point comeback by the Utah Jazz
- Final Score: 107-103
The 90s era in the NBA was a completely different landscape than today. Known for some of the best individual matchups in NBA history, team dynasties, and rugged physical defense, the 90s also featured some of the biggest comebacks in league history.
According to Basketball Reference, there have been six regular season comebacks of at least 30 points, and 1996 showcased the most remarkable regular season comeback in NBA history when Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz overcame a 36-point deficit in their matchup against the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets built their 36-point lead heading into halftime, before Malone and the Jazz stormed back. Malone finished the night on 13-25 shooting with 31 points and, in true ‘mailman’ fashion, dominated the paint en route to the largest comeback ever.
Biggest Comeback in NBA Playoff History
- Matchup: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors (April 15th, 2019)
- The Comeback: 31-point comeback by the Clippers
- Final Score: 135-131
The Golden State Warriors have had their fair share of playoff losses on the road to an NBA dynasty in their own right. But in 2019, they suffered the worst loss in postseason history, ceding a 31-point lead against the Clippers.
Golden State entered the 2019 playoffs once again as the #1 seed in the Western Conference and drew the 8th-seeded Clippers in their first-round matchup. After splitting the first two games, the series was tied 1-1 heading into Game Three.
For the first half of the game, the Warriors looked like the Warriors. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, two of the best shooters in NBA history, were letting it fly from behind the arc, and Draymond Green was dominating the paint. By the start of the third quarter, the Warriors had a 31-point lead and seemed on their way to a win, before Lou Williams and Landry Shamet took over for the Clippers.
Williams was the leading scorer in the contest, putting up 38 points in the win, while Shamet secured the victory with a go-ahead 3-pointer with just under 16 seconds to go in the contest.
“We got exactly what we deserved,” Steve Kerr told reporters after the game. “The Clippers were great. They executed, they were hungry, they stayed connected. They were together.”
Biggest Comeback in NBA Finals History
- Matchup: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics (June 12th, 2008)
- The Comeback: 24-point comeback by the Celtics
- Final Score: 97-91
What would the greatest rivalry in the league be without a comeback story for the ages?
In 2008, NBA fans were treated to a classic Finals matchup: Kobe Bryant and the Lakers against the Boston Celtics and their Big 3 – Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen.
In a matchup that seemed destined from the start of the regular season, the historic franchises were facing off in the Finals for their first time since the likes of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson graced the floor.
With the Celtics leading the series at 2-1, the Game Four matchup was crucial in their quest for a Finals victory. According to NBA.com, a team that goes up 3-1 in a series goes on to win the series 95.4 percent of the time. Heading into halftime of the contest, a Game 4 victory seemed far off for the Celtics, as they were down 24 points heading into the third quarter.
That’s when the Celtics’ Big 3 took control of the game. Pierce scored 20 points, Garnett had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Allen had 19 points. The Celtics comeback victory all but assured their 17th NBA title, with Lakers Coach Phil Jackson telling reports after the game that after the comeback “the air went out of the building.”
Biggest 4th Quarter Comeback
- Matchup: Toronto Raptors vs. Dallas Mavericks (December 22nd, 2019)
- The Comeback: 23-point comeback by the Raptors
- Final Score: 110-107
With two minutes to go in the regular season contest between the Dallas Mavericks and Toronto Raptors, fans chanted one name over and over: ‘Kyle Lowry.’ Known for his short stature and tenacious playing style, the point guard was a one-man wrecking crew against the Mavericks.
“LOWRY, LOWRY, LOWRY,” the fans chanted as the Raptors completed the largest comeback in fourth-quarter history. This was a far cry from the atmosphere in the stadium just a quarter ago when the Mavericks had a 30-point lead after halftime.
Unlike previous comebacks on this list, this one was fueled predominantly by the defense led by Lowry and the Raptors front court. In the fourth quarter alone, the Raptors held the Mavericks to just 6-25 shooting, en route to securing the stunning comeback.
The Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle had high praise for Lowry and the Raptors post game: “When you get hit with that kind of force, you’ve got to respond with equal or greater force, and we just didn’t do it.” Carlisle said.
Biggest Comebacks in the Final Two Minutes
- Matchup: Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs (December 9th, 2004)
- The Comeback: 13-point comeback in 33 seconds by the Tracy McGrady
- Final Score: 81-80
NBA legend Kobe Bryant called Tracy McGrady “the toughest guy he has ever played against,” topping the list of the hardest players to defend throughout Bryant’s storied career.
McGrady’s toughness was none more on display than in 2004 in the final seconds of a game against the San Antonio Spurs when by himself, McGrady delivered one of the most improbable comebacks in NBA history.
With 33 seconds to go in the contest, McGrady and the Rockets were down double digits, and fans were already exiting the stadium, all but assured of the outcome.
But McGrady had other plans.
Tracy McGrady went scorched earth against the Spurs, draining threes from all over the court in a ridiculous fashion. He simply could not miss.
McGrady finished out those 33 seconds by securing a steal to flip possession and went for 13 points, going 4-4 from beyond the arc, including completing a 4-point play. It cemented his name in NBA history as one of the greatest individual performances ever.
Biggest Comeback in the Final 10 Seconds
- Matchup: Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks (May 7th, 1995)
- The Comeback: 9-point comeback in 8 seconds by the Reggie Miller
- Final Score: 107-105
Trailing 105-99 with just under ten seconds left, The Indiana Pacers were down 9 points against their Eastern Conference rivals, the New York Knicks in the 1995 playoffs, when Reggie Miller made history.
In a conversation with NBA.com, Miller spoke on the moment leading up to the epic comeback.
“I remember coming out of the timeout, I said, “Okay if we get a quick three and cut the deficit down, anything is possible.'”
Anything was possible – with a few timely steals, and going 3-3 from beyond the arc, Miller pulled off one of the most efficient comebacks in NBA history.
Related articles you might like:
- The Biggest NHL Comebacks of All Time
- Division 2 Basketball Players Who Made It To The NBA
- The Best Undrafted NBA Players Who Beat The Odds
If you enjoy stories like this, join thousands of sports fans on our free Underdog Newsletter to discover the overlooked stories you won’t hear anywhere else.