While no team has ever won four straight playoff games after dropping the first three of a series, there have been a select few that have rallied back to win Games 5, 6 and 7. Here are the NBA 3-1 comebacks over the course of the league’s history.
The longer, seven-game series are designed to ensure the best NBA teams will prevail.
However, it can also give teams have a chance to climb back into the series. It’s not a very common occurrence as only a few teams have managed to mount a comeback that gives their fanbase eternal bragging rights.
While no team has ever won four straight playoff games after losing the first three, teams have managed to win after falling into a 3-1 series deficit 13 times in NBA history.
So let’s dive into the list of teams that have rallied to defy the odds in chronological order, starting with the most recent.
2020 Western Conference First Round: Denver Nuggets over Utah Jazz
This series was poised to be compelling after two young, dynamic guards – Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray – had a breakout regular season.
While the Nuggets took Game 1, the Jazz succeeded in taking the next three, which included one of the most memorable playoff duels in Game 4 when both Murray (50) and Mitchell (51) had 50-point performances. But the Jazz came out on top to put the Nuggets down 3-1.
With the odds against them, the Nuggets switched gears and stepped up defensively. Mitchell still scored 30 or more in two out of the three remaining games, but Murray’s barrage paired with Nikola Jokić’s all-round game became too much for the Jazz .
Game 7 was the lowest-scoring game of the series as both teams were held to below 100 points. The Nuggets won 80-78, with Mike Conley missing the go-ahead 3 in the final seconds.
2020 Western Conference Semifinals: Denver Nuggets over Los Angeles Clippers
Yes, the Nuggets did it twice in the same postseason – during the 2020 bubble playoffs in Orlando. Soon after completing the franchise’s first 3-1 comeback, the Nuggets found themselves in a similar situation – this time against the Clippers. Kawhi Leonard proved to be problematic for Denver in Games 3 and 4.
The Nuggets fought hard in Games 5 and 6, claiming wins despite Leonard and Paul George’s offensive prowess (both scored 25+ points in each contest).
In Game 7, Murray put up a 40-point game – shooting almost 58% from the field and 46% from deep – and Jokić recorded a triple-double with 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists. The Clippers struggled to find their rhythm, losing 104-89 as the Nuggets did the unthinkable yet again.
2016 Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors over Oklahoma City Thunder
After building a comfortable 3-1 series lead in the West finals, the Thunder walked into Oracle Arena hoping to end the series. However, even a 40-point night by Kevin Durant and a 31-point night by Russell Westbrook in Game 5 was not enough. The Warriors won 120-111 to force Game 6, which led to the birth of ‘Game 6 Klay.’
Game 6 was a night that Warriors fans will remember fondly, as Klay Thompson dropped 41 points, 33 of which came from beyond the arc. The Warriors walked away with a 108-101 win to even the series as Oklahoma City’s stars had a bad night from the field.
Stephen Curry and Thompson combined for 13 3-pointers in Game 7. Durant and Westbrook put in everything they had, but the Warriors ultimately ended up winning 96-88 to advance to the Finals.
2016 NBA Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers over Golden State Warriors
The Warriors’ momentum from their high-octane matchup with the Thunder in the previous round carried over into the Finals against the LeBron James- and Kyrie Irving-led Cavaliers. With home-court advantage, the Warriors won the first two games easily before losing Game 3 by a 30-point margin and bouncing back to win Game 4 in Cleveland.
While many wrote the Cavaliers off, both James and Irving came out gunning in Game 5 – dropping a 41-point piece each. Klay Thompson had another strong showing with 37 points, but the Cavaliers succeeded in extending the series by winning 112-97 on the road.
James pulled a rabbit out of the hat yet again with 41 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in Game 6. Steph Curry and Thompson combined for 55 points, but the Warriors could not climb back from an early 20-point deficit and the Cavaliers won 115-101 to give themselves a chance to write history.
The Warriors had home-court advantage in Game 7, but that did not seem to bother James. He had one of his best performances of the postseason with 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and three blocks, including his now-legendary chase-down block down the stretch. Irving hit a key 3-pointer in crunch time to help Cleveland seal a 93-89 victory.
Draymond Green did all he could with 32 points, 15 boards and nine assists, but the Cavs became NBA champions for the first time.
- 2015 Western Conference Semifinals: Houston Rockets over Los Angeles Clippers
- 2006 Western Conference First Round: Phoenix Suns over Los Angeles Lakers
- 2003 Eastern Conference First Round: Detroit Pistons over Orlando Magic
1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Miami Heat over New York Knicks
The Knicks team stacked with players like Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston and Charles Oakley was quick to build a 3-1 lead in the second-round series. However, Miami’s stars were no less with Tim Hardaway dominating on the offensive end and Alonzo Mourning starring on defense.
The remaining three games were all low-scoring affairs, with the Heat finding an answer for every run the Knicks managed to put up. They had multiple role players shine as well, giving them the push they needed to turn the tide.
Miami was relentless in Game 7, with Hardaway scoring a game-high 38 points while shooting 60% from deep. The Heat won 101-90 to complete the franchise’s only comeback from a 3-1 deficit in playoff history, but would fall to the eventual champion Chicago Bulls in the conference finals.
- 1995 Western Confrence Semifinals: Houston Rockets over Phoenix Suns
- 1981 Eastern Conference Finals: Boston Celtics over Philadelphia 76ers
- 1979 Eastern Conference Finals: Washington Bullets over San Antonio Spurs
- 1970 Western Division Semifinals: Los Angeles Lakers over Phoenix Suns
1968 Eastern Division Finals: Boston Celtics over Philadelphia 76ers
The Celtics were the first team to mount such a comeback in playoff series – even before the NBA and ABA merged. Back in the 1968 Eastern Division semifinals, the Celtics faced the defending champion 76ers and managed to steal the first game on the road.
However, things quickly went south as the 76ers managed to win the following three games behind strong performances by NBA MVP Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Chet Walker. But the Celtics were not ready to throw in the towel, especially not with players like Bill Russell, Sam Jones and John Havlicek.
While Havlicek and Jones carried much of the scoring load in the remaining games, Russell was monumental on the boards – finishing the series with 13.7 points and 23.9 rebounds per game. The Celtics forced Game 7 in Philadelphia, which resulted in a nail-biting 100-96 win as they completed the first 3-1 comeback in the NBA playoffs and advanced to the Finals.
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