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The Greatest Comeback in NBA Finals History: A Complete Analysis

The Dallas Mavericks fell behind early in the first game of the 2024 NBA Finals on Thursday night.

Before they could settle in at TD Garden, the Boston Celtics had already built up a 17-point lead after 12 minutes – the largest lead by any team in the first quarter of a Game 1 in NBA Finals history. Boston did not let up and was up by as many as 29 points in the second quarter before Dallas slowly caught up.

The Mavericks were able to reduce the deficit to eight points in the third quarter, but could not complete the comeback and lost 107-89. Had they managed to do so, they would have made NBA history.

The largest comeback in a single NBA playoff game is 31 points and came in 2019 when the Los Angeles Clippers overcame a 31-point deficit to win Game 2 of their first playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers outscored Golden State 85–58 in the second half to win that game.

But the greatest comeback of the NBA Finals came in Game 4 of the 2008 finals, when the Celtics overcame a 24-point deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers.

DATE

MATCH

DEFICIT

FINAL RESULT

12 June 2008

Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers led by 24 points

Celtics 97, Lakers 91

The Celtics went into Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals with a 2-1 lead. They won the first two games of the series at TD Banknorth Garden and lost Game 3 at what was then the Staples Center in an ugly defensive battle 87-81.

Los Angeles started the first quarter of Game 4 hot, shooting 64.7% of its shots and leading 35-14 after 12 minutes, while the Celtics shot just 27.3% (6 of 22). The Lakers extended their lead to 24 points in the second quarter when Sasha Vujacic hit a three-pointer off a pass from Kobe Bryant to make it 45-21.

The score remained 45-21 for nearly two minutes, with both teams trading missed shots back and forth, until Celtics forward Kevin Garnet sank a mid-range jump shot. And the Celtics' comeback began.

Boston trailed the Lakers by 18 points at halftime, but came out of the locker room with a 31-15 third quarter lead to beat Los Angeles. They tied the score at 73-73 with 10:13 left in the fourth quarter and took the lead for the first time at 84-83 with 4:07 left. From there, they went on a 13-8 run to win 97-91 and take a 3-1 lead.

The Lakers led for 40 minutes and 30 minutes. They couldn't miss in the first half, but in the final two quarters they made just 33.3% of their shots and missed all eight attempts from beyond the arc. Bryant and Pau Gasol had a plus/minus of -24 in the second half.

Garnet had a double-double in 37 minutes, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, but it was James Posey who provided the momentum off the bench, scoring 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting and sinking four three-pointers.

They're facing a 24-point deficit in the NBA Finals? As Garnett said after Boston won Game 6 and was crowned champions: Anything is possible.