NBA Power Rankings: 10 Worst Collapses in Playoff History
We have all been there.
At some point in our sports consuming lives, we have all been on our favorite couch or at our local bar watching our team move into position to grasp another win, another series or even another title.
However, right before we picked up the phone to call our friends to see who will be driving down to the victory parade, everything changes.
Everything that we expected is no longer the case. The game suddenly changes from a masterful work of art to a train wreck that we can not turn away from.
There are several ways to describe this event that has surely happened to every true sports fans, but we all know the best word for it: collapse.
Here are the 10 worst collapses to a game, series or season that have happened in the NBA playoffs.
Honorable Mention: 2003 Orlando Magic
In the first round of the 2003 playoffs, the Orlando Magic took a commanding 3-1 lead over the Detroit Pistons.
Before Game 5, NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady commented that it felt wonderful, "finally being in a position to advance to the second round."
The Pistons, however, seemed to disagree that the series was over, and would go on to win the next three games to eliminate the Orlando Magic.
To this day, Tracy McGrady has never played in a second-round game.
This deserved an honorable mention due to its comedic value.
10. 1973 Milwaukee Bucks
The 1973 Milwaukee Bucks entered into the playoffs with the Western Conference's best record (60-22) and faced a fourth-seeded Golden State squad that only managed 47 wins in the regular season. Not only were the Bucks having a great season in 1973, but they had been a perennial powerhouse in recent years.
Milwaukee was on the brink of becoming the NBA's next dynasty. Led by a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, the Bucks were shoe-ins not just for this series, but for the NBA title.
After three games, the Bucks led the series 2-1, but Golden State would proceed to shock the league by winning the next three games.
The Bucks failed to claim a title during this era, and the following season Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would be shipped to the Lakers.
9. 2008 Los Angeles Lakers
If we are talking single game collapses, this list would not be complete without the Game 4 nightmare suffered by the Los Angeles Lakers at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
The Lakers had little to worry about from early on. No team had ever come back in an NBA Finals game after being down 15, and the Lakers had jumped out to a 24 point lead in the third quarter.
But Boston refused to go away. The Celtics rallied with a 21-3 run, and eventually took back the lead with less than five minutes left in the fourth.
The C's would go on to win the series in six.
8. 1975 Washington Bullets
The 1975 Bullets were as big and bad as they came.
The big men duo of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes dominated the frontcourt against every opponent, and 1975 was the year that many sports writers had all but penciled the Bullets in as the NBA champions.
I guess Golden State's Rick Barry didn't get the memo.
Barry led the Warriors to a clean sweep of the Bullets, but Washington would eventually redeem itself with a title in 1978.
7. 1977 Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers were well on their way to a title in 1977. After taking care of Boston in seven games and Houston in six, the only thing that stood in their way was a young Portland Trail Blazer team that, up until that year, had never even been to the playoffs.
As expected, Philadelphia jumped out to a 2-0 lead and looked as if they would have no trouble with Portland.
The script would soon flip on the Dr. J-led Sixer team as Portland, led by a young Bill Walton, would win the next four games to take the series.
6. 2011 Miami Heat
After all of the "decision" nonsense, this is one of the only mega-collapses that a lot of fans from across the country were rooting for.
Miami had plenty of chances to seal the deal, but they were never able to capitalize on them.
In Game 2 against the Mavericks, the Heat were up 15 in the fourth. All they needed to do was hold on and they would jump out to a commanding two-game lead. Unfortunately for them, Dallas was able to make a miraculous comeback and tie the series at one game apiece.
In Game 4, Miami once again had an opportunity to take a two-game lead, but superstar Lebron James disappeared in the game, only contributing eight points.
Miami would not be able to regain the upper hand, and Dallas would win in six.
5. 1969 Los Angeles Lakers
It wasn't often that anyone could say they had a realistic shot against a Bill Russell-led Celtics squad, but the 1969 Los Angeles Lakers were presented with this opportunity on a golden platter.
The door on the Bill Russell era was about to be slammed shut. This generation of Celtics were getting up there in age (not unlike today's Celtics), while the Lakers still had three of the NBA's top players in their prime in Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
While the Lakers breezed their way into the championship game, the Celtics hobbled into the playoffs, and had to upset much stronger and athletic teams like the 76ers and the Knicks.
After losing to the Celtics in seven previous championship matchups, this was supposed to be the year for the Lakers to reverse that pattern and exact revenge.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, the Celtics won the series in seven games despite Jerry West being named the NBA Finals MVP.
4. 2007 Dallas Mavericks
The 2007 Dallas Mavericks were one of the best teams in recent memory, or at least we thought so after 82 games.
During the regular season, Dallas won 67 games and easily captured the best record in the NBA. They had high hopes going into the playoffs, as any No. 1 seed would, but those playoff dreams were short-lived.
On the other side, the Golden State Warriors were in the playoffs for the first time since 1994. However, though they managed to squeak into the playoffs as an eight seed, they had beaten the Mavericks in their last five meetings. Clearly, history was on their side.
The Warriors would go on to upset the top-seeded Mavs in six games. These wouldn't be close games, either, as the Warriors won by an average 10-point differential.
Dallas would become the first team to ever win 65 or more games and lose in the first round.
3. 1994 Seattle Sonics
To most people, this series had sweep written all over it.
Seattle had the best record in the NBA at 63-19. Denver had the worst record of any playoff team that year at 42-40. On paper, it looked like a complete mismatch, and that is why no one was surprised when Seattle took the first two games by a combined margin of 34 points.
The Nuggets stunned the Sonics in Game 3 with a convincing 17-point win, however, and were able to carry that momentum to Game 4 with an overtime victory.
A shaken and disappointed Seattle squad would have to play a fifth and final game in their own building, but given that they had the best home record in the NBA that season, they could not have expected what was to come next.
Led by a young Dikembe Mutombo, the Nuggets were able to beat the Sonics on the road and become the first ever No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed.
2. 1995 New York Knicks
There is no single moment in NBA history that more perfectly exemplifies a collapse than the final 18.7 seconds of Game 1 of the 1995 New York Knicks versus Indiana Pacers second-round matchup.
We all know the infamous story of Reggie Miller stealing two inbounds passes, dribbling them behind the arc and hitting a couple threes followed by a pair of free throws to win the game.
For those of us who were fortunate enough to watch it live (or unfortunate enough if you are a Knicks fan), it was an unforgettable moment in sports.
However, what is often forgotten—or not as commonly spoken about—is the potentially game-tying layup that was missed by Patrick Ewing in Game 7. The fact that one of the NBA's most dominant and reliable big men at the time would miss a layup was almost as shocking as the last-second turnaround in Game 1.
1. 2006 Dallas Mavericks
No team has ever won an NBA playoff series after being down 3-0.
With that in mind, you could make the argument that Dallas was six minutes away from securing its first NBA championship.
The Mavericks had a 13-point cushion with 6:33 left on the clock in Game 3. If they were able to hold on they would put a historically unbreakable stranglehold on the Miami Heat by going up 3-0.
However, Dwyane Wade had other ideas. Wade scored 12 of his 42 points in the final 6:15 of the game, and Miami would take go ahead on a Gary Payton jumper with nine seconds left.
Even after blowing a 13-point lead in the waning moments of the game, Dallas' superstar Dirk Nowitzki had a chance to tie the game at the free-throw line. Dirk shot .901 from the stripe that year, and if the Mavs wanted anyone on the line shooting clutch free throws, it was him. Unfortunately, Dirk missed one of the free throws and Miami would go onvto win.
Dallas would not recover as Wade and the Heat took the next three games to win the series in six. They would have to wait until 2011 for their title, and a little revenge.