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NBA PM: History’s Biggest Series Comebacks

If the Bulls were to come back to win their series with Washington, it would be among the unlikeliest comebacks ever… Warriors mulling name change, but not in the way you’d think

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History’s Biggest Series Comebacks

To say that the Chicago Bulls are ready to have the proverbial fork stuck into them is probably fair considering that there has only been one time in NBA history that a team has lost its first two games at home and then gone on to win the series, and it’s never happened in a seven-game series.

Still, it’s not impossible, and plenty of crazier things have happened in past playoffs, where there have been more than enough legendary comebacks to inspire hope in teams like the Bulls.

Before we get to the list of the greatest series comebacks in NBA playoffs history, it’s worth nothing that no team has ever rallied from an 0-3 hole, and only eight teams have come back from being down 3-1. Also, only 15 teams have come back from being down 2-0, making a grand total of 23 times in league history that a team has faced at least a two-game hole in a playoff series yet still come back to win it.

It’s rare, but it happens, and the following are the most exciting instances we’ve ever seen:

#5 – 2012 Western Conference Finals – The Oklahoma City Thunder lost the first two games of this series at San Antonio, which wasn’t terribly surprising considering the Spurs had won their previous 20 games leading up to that point, including two series sweeps over the Utah Jazz and L.A. Clippers. Despite having all the momentum in the world, the Spurs would lose the next four games to the Thunder and a streaking Kevin Durant, making for one of the more memorable comebacks in recent NBA history.

#4 –1993 Western Conference First Round – Only once has a team ever lost the first two games of a playoff series at home and then gone onto win the series, but that’s what Phoenix did in 1993 when they came back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit at the hands of the L.A. Lakers. Even more impressive is that in 1993, first round series were only five games long, so an 2-0 hole would’ve been nearly impossible to win with only one home game left. The Suns did, though, and ended up making it all the way to the NBA Finals that year.

#3 – 1981 Eastern Conference Finals – The Boston Celtics started this series down 3-1 to Philadelphia, but Boston pushed things to seven games and actually won the final matchup of the series by a single point thanks to a Larry Bird bank shot in the game’s final moments. Five games in that series were decided by two or fewer points, making it one of the more exciting series in NBA history.

#2 – 1995 Western Conference Semifinals – En route to their first of two championships in the NBA’s Jordan-less era, Houston found themselves in dire straits against Phoenix, who led the series 3-1 after Game 4. Hakeem Olajuwon then ripped off a couple of 30-point games, and Mario Elie hit the biggest shot of his life in Game 7—a game-winning three-pointer from the corner to seal the series.

#1 – 1969 NBA Finals – The Boston Celtics’ rival L.A. Lakers jumped out to a 2-0 series lead in what would be Bill Russell’s final season as a player, but Boston pushed it to seven games and snuck by with a two-point win in that final game. It was a historic series in a number of ways; not only did it mark Boston’s 11th championship in 13 years, but it was also the first time a team had ever come back from being down 2-0 to win the Finals and it still is the only time that a player for the losing team (Jerry West) was named the Finals MVP.

Honorable Mention:

2007 Eastern Conference Finals – After starting this series down 2-0 to the Detroit Pistons, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers found a groove and failed to lose another game in the series. In Game 5, James legendarily scored the final 25 points of the game to seal the double-overtime win. After a metaphorical punch in the stomach like that, it was more or less impossible for Detroit to fully recover.

2006 NBA Finals – Not only did Dallas win the first two games of their 2006 Finals matchup against the Miami HEAT, but they did so by double digits in both contests. The HEAT gathered themselves upon returning home, however, as they won the next four games to clinch their first ever championship as a franchise. Wade, who scored 36 points in the Game 6 finale, was named Finals MVP.

1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals – This was the series with the big fight between Charlie Ward and P.J. Brown in Game 5, but it also was one of the rare occasions when a team came back from a 3-1 deficit, which Miami did by toppling New York in seven games.

1994 Western Conference First Round – We remember this series as the first time a #8 seed ever toppled a #1 seed, but Denver’s series win over Seattle was doubly impressive because they started off down 2-0. Denver should have been massively overmatched by the likes of Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, but massive efforts from Dikembe Mutombo, LaPhonso Ellis, Brian Williams and Robert Pack helped lead to one of the game’s all-time greatest series upsets.

1993 Eastern Conference Semifinals – After that awesome John Starks baseline dunk in Game 2, which helped spark the second-straight win for New York over the defending champion Chicago Bulls, it appeared as though the Knicks had all the momentum and would take the series. However, Michael Jordan and Co. ripped off four straight wins, including a monster Game 4 in which Jordan scored 54 points and a Game 5 in which he notched a triple-double. In short, Jordan was a tough champ to knock out.

1977 NBA Finals – After starting the series down 2-0, the Blazers won the next four contests, which culminated in a monster game from Bill Walton (20 points, 23 rebounds, 7 assists, 8 blocks) in the series-clinching Game 6.

Can Chicago make their way onto this list? Crazier things have happened, and crazier things still will. It certainly isn’t impossible, though, as the teams on this list have proven.

Golden State Warriors Mulling Name Change

While there are plenty of high school and collegiate teams that have changed their team name from “Warriors” over the years to distance themselves from the Native American mascot debate, the Golden State Warriors’ conversation over a name change has nothing to do with the mascot, which no longer has anything to do with Native Americans, anyway. Presently, the team is building a new arena in San Francisco, so the organization is considering a shift back to being called the San Francisco Warriors, a name they used from 1962-1971.

The Warriors are looking to gather information from the fans to see if they’d favor the slight brand change, but name swaps are nothing new in the NBA. While many of them have come because of relocations (that’s how we get the Jazz in Salt Lake City and a team named after lakes in a city by the ocean), there have been a handful of other teams that have changed monikers without undergoing a major relocation.

Here’s a quick list of some of the other more notable team name changes in league history that came without a big move:

The Denver Rockets (1967-1974) become the Denver Nuggets (1974-present) – Known as the Denver Rockets during their time in the ABA, new ownership and a shot at assimilating the team into the NBA gave the franchise a great opportunity to rebrand. They also sort of had to, since the Houston franchise was already named the Rockets, so “Nuggets” was chosen to pay homage to Colorado’s role in the 19th Century gold rush.

The Washington Bullets (1974-1997) become the Washington Wizards (1997-present) – The original Baltimore Bullets, not in any way affiliated with the NBA, were named after a World War II ammunition factory in the area, but the team eventually moved to Landover, Maryland and then again to Washington, D.C., the latter of which didn’t feel like an appropriate place to use a team name like “Bullets,” which many associated with gun violence. The name “Wizards” was chosen from a good, old-fashioned naming contest (which is how many of the league’s teams ultimately got their names), topping runners up like Sea Dogs and Dragons.

The New Orleans Hornets (2002-2013) become the New Orleans Pelicans (2013-present) – After the permanent move to New Orleans, owner Tom Benson made it known that he wanted a nickname that was more “local.” While there was nothing wrong with “Hornets,” the truth is that “Hornets” was a name chosen for a different location, and ultimately the organization decided to roll with “Pelicans” instead, not only as an homage to the state bird, but also to an old minor league baseball team that went by the same name.

The Charlotte Bobcats (2004-2014) become the Charlotte Hornets (2014-present) – Once New Orleans officially dropped the “Hornets” moniker in favor of something more locally flavorful, Michael Jordan and the Bobcats saw the opportunity to swoop in and re-claim a name of which the state of North Carolina was once very proud. The “Bobcats” were originally named at least in part after former owner Bob Johnson, though the franchise claimed the name was actually chosen because their team would be as “athletic, fierce and hard-working as the bobcat itself.” Whatever the reason, the Hornets name and color scheme is a million times more interesting than what they’re leaving behind, so most fans are pretty excited about the return of this ‘90s cultural icon.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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