Searching for hope: Teams that came back from 3-1 series deficits

Here’s a quick summary of the eight NBA teams that have come back from a 3-1 series deficit:

MVP Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns (54-28) rallied to beat scoring champ Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers (45-37) in the first round and made it to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Dallas Mavericks. The Suns also had Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. The Lakers had Kwame Brown and Smush Parker.

The Detroit Pistons (50-32) rallied to beat Tracy McGrady’s Orlando Magic (42-40) in the first round. That was the season T-Mac made what may be the most unfortunate quote of his career, noting that it was “great to finally be in the position to advance to the second round (of the playoffs)”. All these years later, he still hasn’t advanced, and probably never will.

Tim Hardaway’s Miami Heat (61-21) rallied to beat the New York Knicks (57-25) in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but they lost to the Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hakeem Olajuwon’s defending champion Houston Rockets (47-35) rallied to beat Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns (59-23) in the Western Conference Semifinals and went on the win the NBA title. This was Houston’s famous “Never underestimate the heart of a champion” season.

MVP Runner-up Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics (62-20) rallied to beat MVP Dr. J’s Philadelphia 76ers (also 62-20) in the Eastern Conference Finals and went on to defeat the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals. Boston had homecourt advantage thanks to a win over Philly on the final day of the regular season. You want to know how close this series was? Game 1 was decided by one point, Game 4 was decided by two points, Game 5 was decided by two points, Game 6 was decided by two points, and Game 7 was decided by one point.

The Washington Bullets (54-28) rallied to beat the San Antonio Spurs (48-34) in the Eastern Conference finals and then advanced to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Seattle Super Sonics.

The Los Angeles Lakers (46-36) rallied to beat the Phoenix Suns (39-43) in the Western Conference Semifinals and then advanced to the NBA Finals, where they lost to Willis Reed’s New York Knicks. That L.A. team had Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.

Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics (54-28) rallied to beat the Wilt Chamberlain’s defending champion Philadelphia 76ers (62-20) in the Eastern Conference Finals — winning Game 7 in Philly — and then went on to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. It was Russell’s 10th championship.

As Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference notes: “Of the eight teams,  five (1968 Celtics, 1970 Lakers, 1979 Bullets, 1981 Celtics, 1995 Rockets) went on to the Finals and three (’68 & ’81 Celtics, ’95 Rockets) won it all. Also of note: 6 of the 8 played Game 5 at home, which is encouraging news for the 2011 Chicago Bulls.”

The closest comparison is between this series and the 1980-81 Sixers-Celtics series. That matchup also included an MVP and an MVP runner up. The teams were well-matched and the games were close. In Game 2, the score was tied at 73-73 with under five minutes to go. In Game 3, the Bulls were down only 68-65 to start the fourth quarter. Last night, Chicago was up by five points to start the fourth.

This isn’t all-out domination, even if it feels that way, and the Bulls have had a puncher’s chance in every game they’ve lost. So winning three games in a row is certainly possible.

It’s just not very probable.

20 Responses to Searching for hope: Teams that came back from 3-1 series deficits

  1. Inception May 25, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    I want to bullieve, but just can’t.

    they need more experience, and this is part of gaining it….losing a big series.

    Jake in Minnie May 25, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

    I woke up at 5 this morning, and for some reason..I was just angry.

    But, this shit ain’t over.

  3. Inception May 25, 2011 at 8:27 pm #


    lol likewise, but at 5:30….i was cursing to myself in the bathroom….true fans invested a lot of emotion with this team.

    that was a tough tough loss to swallow….

  4. Vincent May 25, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    I knew that the heat were capable of dominating the series, but the way that their bigs have played in games 2,3,4 it’s just brutal ! We need a second scorer, we need another player that can play the small forward position to help deng, I’m not including korver in the conversation!!! We need instant ofence from the bench , we need better play calling as well , and maybe Chicago can offer Orlando Noah , boozer and a pick for Howard to build a dinasty back in the windy city . I’m a true fan of the bulls , and this series is just killing me to see Miami destroy Chicago the way they’re doing it .

  5. Anonymous May 25, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    I agree Inception. After watching OKC go through similar struggles it struck me that I have been watching basketball probably before Rose was alive. It is very tough to be a young PG in this league. Add a few more years and maybe a little talent and we could have something really special. Just not going to happen this year unfortunately.

    Savage May 25, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    I agree Inception. After watching OKC go through similar struggles it struck me that I have been watching basketball probably before Rose was alive. It is very tough to be a young PG in this league. Add a few more years and maybe a little talent and we could have something really special. Just not going to happen this year unfortunately.

  7. Inception May 25, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    as a fan, you just have to remind yourself how extra motivated Rose will become over the summer…Rose already stated he will work on developing a post game over the summer…looking forward to that.

    also, with Rose winning MVP and entering his 4th season, the refs will naturally give him the “superstar treatment” like every other superstar in this league….i still doubt the refs with Rose.

    Mattzilla May 25, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    You want hope? Go to the right sidebar and click “Please stop shooting Tyrus” and be glad we aren’t stuck with what we had :)

    Will May 25, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    Quick correction: The Suns did not have Amar’e Stoudemire in ’05-’06. That was the season he missed with microfracture surgery.

    SFHoops May 25, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    You forgot to mention that the Nash’s Suns did it twice that year.. Back to back.. They came back from 3-1 hole against Clippers in the next round..

  11. Patrick May 25, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

    Amare was hurt in ’06, so you can save your snide remarks about that Suns squad BROSKI

    inkybreath May 25, 2011 at 10:56 pm #

    Not to mention that, injury or not, Joakim did not play up to his contract. I fully expect him to hit the gym hard, practice that jumper, get even stronger and beast it up next year.

    I trust his motivation and his support of Rose.

    This is going to be a more interesting off-season that last year, no?

    Nicky C May 26, 2011 at 1:43 am #

    After the game last night, it was about 50 degrees and raining outside. But I was amped with rage and needed an outlet, so I went to the place I used to go in high school when I needed to blow off steam: the local high school’s outdoor basketball court. After shooting around for a while, two more guys showed up for the same reason. It was freezing and raining, but I still think we shot better from the outside than the Bulls did in Game 4.

    I almost hate how much I care about this team and beating the cHeat. It’s seriously making me sick to my stomach and late to work. It’s pathetic.

    But…this post gives me some shred of hope to cling to…we can still do this…

    Nicky C May 26, 2011 at 1:45 am #

    inky –

    Imagine how much of a difference it would make if Jo 1) could consistently/confidently knock down a 15 footer and 2) had a go-to post move? This needs to happen THIS summer. If not…something needs to give…

    inkybreath May 26, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    As for the game at hand, there is hope.

    I don’t think Miller can provide consistent production and scrap for them with that kind of injury.

    Just because we lost 3 games for the first time this season, doesn’t mean we are doomed. The season stat still has meaning for this team and how hard it works and our home record still has meaning as well.

    Sports are always about adjustments and there are easily reachable successes available for our team that would allow us to win this next game.

    I want to see Thomas toe with Bosh in the post and make the game different. That first 15 foot elbow jumper will make us all sigh a bit of relief.


    Let the Heat now fall from this further perch! Their smiles, now so easy, will turn to spent ash and the real Team will prevail!!

    Go Bulls!!!

    inkybreath May 26, 2011 at 1:54 am #

    (Agreed Nicky — If Joakim cannot stabilize his game next year, it will get interesting. Can you imagine Noah coming off the bench for Asik?? Again, I have a lot of faith in Noah and the work he will do to improve.)

  17. TBF May 26, 2011 at 3:41 am #

    Ah, now that faith has cracked and warped under the stress of the Bulls losing, the fair-weather friends come out. Nevermind the fact that Joakim has had two unfortunate injuries this season. Never mind that last game he was guarding EVERYONE on the court (James, Wade, Bosh, etc.) with an intensity that left him physically exhausted. Never mind that ever since that fabled Boston series pretty much everyone has thought Joakim was all that and a bag of chips. No no, now it’s veiled threats about trading him or benching him for Asik. “Joakim better start performing offensively or it’ll be the worse for him.”

    “Something needs to give”? Yeah? Like what, benching him? Give me a break. As to getting physically sick and being late to work over a basketball game, maybe you’d better see a professional about that. That doesn’t sound at all healthy to me.

    I’m all for improving the team but get real. This team isn’t going to get better by trading Joakim for anyone not named Dwight Howard. And yeah, I love the Turkish Delight as much as anyone, but he’s not ready to start yet.

  18. SuperJoe May 26, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    RA-SUAL BUT-LER. Put him on the floor please. Also, I have a feeling this series isn’t over. Miami will probably come out flat tonight after 3 very emotional victories. Then all Chi has to do is steal that game back in Miami, which I know we can. Then who knows what happens in game 7 AT HOME. ITS NOT OVER.

    Steve Mueckenhoff May 26, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Wow, didn’t know so many other people were as emotionally vested in this bulls team. Love this old school Bulls team. Been a fan since ’84, and this is as close as we’ve gotten to the golden years. Let’s wipe the smiles off Miami’s faces tonight. And Lebron, stick that tongue back in your mouth.

    Ryan May 26, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

    I was extremely disappointed (and felt sick) as I went to bed Tuesday night. But like you guys I woke up feeling hopeful. This is indeed is NOT over. We were one Derrick Rose free throw away from stealing back home court advantage. ONE FREE THROW. And the series changes entirely in our favor. But what’s done is done. We will win tonight and hopefully make it a statement win (by 10+ points) and take that momentum back to Miami. We are capable of winning there. We did it in the regular season and we’ve come awfully close in the playoffs. 3 games in a row sounds impossible. But if we win tonight and Game 6, is there any way we don’t win game 7???

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