NBA Playoffs: Dirk Nowitzki's Mavs and the Best NBA Playoff Comebacks Since 2000

Jason HeimCorrespondent IJune 4, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Dirk Nowitzki's Mavs and the Best NBA Playoff Comebacks Since 2000

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    MIAMI, FL - JUNE 02:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks makes the game-winning shot to put the Mavericks up 95-93 with 3.6 seconds left in the game against Udonis Haslem #40 of the Miami Heat in Game Two of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    After watching the Dallas Mavericks stun the Miami Heat with an historic comeback in Thursday's Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals, I got to thinking about other noteworthy comebacks in recent NBA history.

    Since 2000, many stand out, but only a few were truly special. Only a few have the power to shift the momentum of entire series, reverse a team's fortunes and completely paralyze an opponent. 

    The Mavericks' terrific rally in Game 2 has series-changing potential, but the next few games will tell whether the Miami Heat are able to get off the canvas and keep fighting.

    Here are the top NBA playoff comebacks of the 21st century. 

7. 2011 Western Conference First Round Game 4: Portland 84, Dallas 82

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    (fast forward the clip to the 1:04 mark to see the amazing fourth quarter comeback)

    The poor Mavs are just starting to get picked on here. This comeback, just earlier this postseason against Portland had the air of devastation for Dallas. 

    The Mavs built an 18-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter. They held Portland to only 54 points through three and were staring at a nice 3-1 advantage heading home to clinch.

    Then, the improbable happened: Brandon Roy woke up and turned the calendar back to 2008. Roy ignited a massive Blazer comeback with 18 fourth-quarter points, including a four-point play. Portland jumped on Roy's back like they used to, and he looked like a free and unhindered All-Star once again, if only for a few moments.

     

    What happened in the series?

    The Blazers couldn't sustain the magical momentum from the Game 4 win that tied the series. They went back to Dallas and the Mavs decidedly took Game 5, then returned to Portland where Dirk closed out the Blazers with 33 points and 11 rebounds. 

6. 2002 Eastern Conference Finals Game 4: Boston 94, New Jersey 90

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    (Watch the highlights of the NBA's greatest fourth-quarter comeback here).

    We come to the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA playoff history: the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 3, at the Fleet Center in Boston.

    Jason Kidd's New Jersey Nets took it to Paul Pierce's Celtics all night long and led by 21 entering the final quarter. The Celtics were beyond frustrated with how they'd played through three, but gained momentum immediately with a bucket to start the quarter and then a steal at half court right after.

    From there, it was Paul Pierce's show. He and his team shot the Fleet Center lights out in the fourth and just shut the Nets down on offense, allowing only 16 points in the final 12 minutes. The Celts poured in 41 in that time to pull ahead with under a minute to go.

     

    What happened in the series? 

    Boston took control with a 2-1 lead after the Game 3 comeback, but succumbed to New Jersey, losing the next three games, including a devastating 94-92 loss in Game 4 at home.  

5. 2000 Western Conference Finals Game 7: LA Lakers 89, Portland 84

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    (fast forward to the 5:22 mark to see the Lakers stun the Blazers to advance to the NBA Finals)

    One comeback that remains close to my heart is the unfathomable run by the Lakers in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. The stakes in this game could not have been higher, and the vitriol for rival Portland any deeper. 

    This game was the ultimate last laugh for two nemeses.

    Portland kicked the Lakers' butt for three quarters, at the end of which Ron Harper banked in a prayer for three to cut the lead to 71-58. The Blazers were one quarter away from pulling off a monumental upset of their own, a rally from their 3-1 series deficit to win the West. That's where the video picks up.

    Shaq and Kobe, not yet at the height of their collective powers, led the Lakers on an astounding 25-4 run in the first year of their new building, the STAPLES Center. 

    Still, the Blazers weren't out of the game. Until this. The alley-oop from Kobe to Shaq put the Lakers up by six with just 40 second left and sent the roof off the STAPLES Center. The Lakers had accomplished the best comeback in playoff Game 7 history, and they had done it against their most-hated rival.

     

    What happened in the series?

    The Lakers won the game with the Game 7 comeback. What happened in the following years, though, is more noteworthy: this victory opened the door for the Lakers to win the first of three consecutive titles, spawning a dynasty that will forever have a footnote in NBA history.

4. 2011 Western Conference Finals Game 4: Dallas 112, Oklahoma City 105

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    (The comeback gets really good at the 1:17 mark)

    The Dallas Mavericks always seem to find themselves in the thick of these historic comebacks for whatever reason. 

    In this one, just a few weeks ago, the Thunder had taken over midway through the fourth quarter. With the crowd behind them at home and a double-digit lead, the Thunder were primed to tie the best-of-seven series at 2-2.

    Then, Dirk rallied the Mavs from 15 points down with only five minutes left. He hit several wild clutch shots and free throws en route to a 40-point effort and got help from Jason Kidd's three-pointer and stout defense.

    Shawn Marion blocked Kevin Durant in a tie game to send it into overtime, where the Thunder looked deflated and the Mavs ran away and hid with their improbable victory.

     

    What happened in the series?

    This major comeback put Dallas up 3-1 in the series, which they closed out in Game 5 at home a few days later.  

3. 2008 NBA Finals Game 4: Boston 97, LA Lakers 91

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    It's amazing how much a huge lead lulls the leader to sleep and galvanizes the trailing team. That's exactly what happened when the Lakers took a 35-14 lead, the largest in Finals first quarter history, into the second quarter against the Celtics in Game 4 of the 2008 Finals.

    The Celtics came back, but not right away; LA still had a 24-point advantage into the third quarter when Boston, led by a Paul Pierce onslaught, ripped off a 21-3 run to close the gap.

    After all that, the Lakers still led in the fourth quarter until the 4:07 mark, when the Celtics took the lead for good. Ray Allen's isolation dribble-drive to the hoop for a layup broke the Lakers' back and serves as the game's lasting image.

    That bucket cemented the Celtic lead for good, sealing one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history.

     

    What happened in the series?

    The Celtics seized 3-1 control of a series that had been up in the air before. The Lakers took Game 5, but everyone knew that this Boston team wasn't losing three in a row, especially after deflating the Lakers in Game 4.  

2. 2011 NBA Finals Game 2: Dallas 95, Miami 93

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    (The action starts to rise in the Game 2 highlight around the 2:34 mark)

    Dwyane Wade had just stroked a three from the corner. The crowd at American Airlines Arena erupted and Dallas called a timeout to regroup. It was 88-73 Miami with 7:13 left in the fourth quarter.

    That's when everything turned.

    The Heat got a little cocky and the Mavs showed no quit. Slowly, but surely, Dirk Nowitzki willed his team back into contention in what was the consummate team effort. Jasons Terry and Kidd, Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler were integral in the scoring action as Dallas closed the lead and clamped down on the other end.

    Miami scored two points down the stretch and was held without a field goal for nearly seven minutes after they opened the 15-point lead. Mario Chalmers tied the game up with a corner three at 93-93 with 26 seconds on the clock.

    Everyone in the arena knew Dallas was going to Dirk at his favorite high post spot. He ducked and dived, faked a jumper and got in the lane for a lefty layup to take the lead with just three ticks left.

    Dwyane Wade's half-court heave was long, and just like that, Dallas was back from the dead in the NBA Finals with a poetic and ironic dose of revenge for 2006.

     

    What happened in the series?

    Time will tell if Miami can get off the canvas, pick itself up and start throwing punches back at Dallas. The series is tied 1-1 with Sunday's Game 3 awaiting.  

1. 2006 NBA Finals Game 3: Miami 98, Dallas 96

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    Game 3 of the 2006 Finals was the turning point of the series and persists as its lasting image.

    Trailing 89-76 with 6:33 remaining, the Heat came to life in a flurry of Dwyane Wade bank shots and clutch Shaquille O'Neal free throws. 

    The Heat capped a 22-7 run to top Dallas with a Gary Payton jumper to take the lead with nine second remaining. Wade scored 12 of his 42 points in that final few minutes alone as the Heat cut the series deficit to 2-1.

     

    What happened in the series? 

    Avery Johnson's Mavericks never recovered, losing three straight after the Game 3 collapse to drop the series in six. Dwyane Wade won his only title to date, and Dirk Nowitzki has been haunted by the memory ever since.