Biggest Comeback in NBA Finals History: A Full Breakdown

Celtics forward Kevin Garnett and guard Ray Allen high five teammates forward Paul Pierce and guard Rajon Rondo during a playoff run.
Celtics forward Kevin Garnett and guard Ray Allen high five teammates forward Paul Pierce and guard Rajon Rondo during a playoff run. / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks found themselves in an early hole Thursday night in Game 1 of the 2024 NBA Finals.

Before they could get comfortable at TD Garden, the Boston Celtics opened up a 17-point lead after 12 minutes—the biggest lead for any team in the first quarter of a Game 1 in NBA Finals history. Boston continued to pile on and led by as many as 29 points in the second quarter before Dallas began chipping away.

The Mavericks trimmed the deficit to eight points in the third quarter but weren't able to fully complete the comeback, losing 107–89. If they did, it would've made NBA history.

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

But as far as the NBA Finals goes, the biggest comeback was when the Celtics battled back from 24 points down to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the 2008 Finals.

DATE

MATCHUP

DEFICIT

FINAL SCORE

June 12, 2008

Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers led by 24 points

Celtics 97, Lakers 91

How did the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history transpire?

The Celtics entered Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals holding a 2–1 series lead. They swept the first two games of the series at TD Banknorth Garden and lost 87–81 in an ugly defensive battle in Game 3 at then-Staples Center.

Los Angeles came out hot in the first quarter of Game 4, shooting 64.7% from the field and taking a 35–14 lead after 12 minutes while the Celtics shot just 27.3% (6 of 22). The Lakers built it up to a 24-point lead in the second quarter when Sasha Vujacic drained a three-pointer off a pass from Kobe Bryant to make it 45–21.

The score remained 45–21 for nearly two minutes of game time, as the teams exchanged misses, until Celtics forward Kevin Garnet knocked down a mid-range jumper. And the Celtics' comeback began.

Boston still trailed the Lakers by 18 points at halftime but came out firing in the third quarter, outscoring Los Angeles 31–15. They tied the game at 73 with 10:13 remaining in the fourth quarter, and took their first lead of the game at 84–83 with 4:07 remaining. From there, they closed out on a 13–8 run to win 97–91 and take a 3–1 series lead.

The Lakers led for 40:30 of game time. They couldn't miss in the first half but shot just 33.3% from the field in the final two quarters, missing all eight attempts from downtown. Bryant and Pau Gasol logged a plus/minus of -24 in the second half.

Garnet tallied a double-double in 37 minutes, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. But it was James Posey providing the spark off the bench, logging 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting and nailing four three-pointers.

Facing a 24-point deficit in the NBA Finals? As Garnett would go on to say after Boston claimed Game 6 and were crowned champions, anything is possible.


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Tom Dierberger

TOM DIERBERGER

Tom Dierberger is a writer and editor for the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated. Tom joined SI in 2023 after stints at FOX Sports, Bally Sports, and NBC Sports. In his spare time, Tom can be seen throwing out his arm while playing fetch with his dog, Walter B. Boy.