(MEDIA GENERAL) – On Monday, The Golden State Warriors became the 10th team in NBA history to erase a 3-1 series deficit, prevailing 96-88 in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Where does the Warriors’ comeback rank in the (my) sports pantheon? I’ve got a top-four list, and the Warriors made the cut.
NFL – The 1993 Buffalo Bills rally past Houston
The Wikipedia entry for this game is literally called “The Comeback.”
Warren Moon dominated the first half and scored again early in the third quarter to stake the Oilers to a commanding 35-3 lead. Then, Buffalo, with backup quarterback Frank Reich playing in place of injured star Jim Kelly, mounted their comeback.
Touchdown. Recovered on-side kick. Touchdown. Houston punt. Touchdown. Interception. Touchdown.
The Bills had trimmed the deficit from 35-3 to 35-31 in less than seven minutes. The Bills took the lead, 38-35, with less than four minutes to play on Reich’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Andre Reed. Moon led the Oilers on a 63-yard drive before Al Del Greco’s 26-yard field goal sent the game to overtime.
Houston won the overtime coin toss, but a Moon interception and a facemask penalty on the return set the Bills in field goal range, and a Steve Christie 32-yarder cemented “The Comeback” in NFL lore.
Why No. 4? Simple. This wasn’t a series. No disrespect to the Bills, but beating a team four times in a row is a lot harder than one crazy second-half collapse. This was a great comeback and a great story, but in terms of stressful, back-against-the-wall wins, I’ll put this at No. 4.
NBA – The 73-win Warriors avoid asterisk’s shadow
The Golden State Warriors, fresh off a record-setting 73-9 regular season, entered the 2016 playoffs as the heavy favorites. But the Oklahoma City Thunder pushed them to the brink, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference finals after blowout wins in Game 3 and Game 4 (133-105 and 118-94, respectively).
Despite an off-night from 3-point range – the Warriors’ noted specialty – league MVP Steph Curry and backcourt mate Klay Thompson combined for 58 points to hold off the Thunder 120-111 to force Game 6.
Game 6 was Thompson’s show, scoring 41 points, including an NBA playoff record 11 made 3-pointers. The Warriors posted a late rally, including scoring the final nine points of the game, to stun the Oklahoma City crowd and eke out a 108-101 win.
In Game 7, the Warriors fed off their home crowd and continued their hot shooting to down the Thunder 96-88 to take the series and cement the comeback. Curry and Thompson combined for 13 made 3-pointers, six more than the entire Thunder team combined in Game 7.
Why No. 3? First, let’s note again that the Warriors are the 10th NBA team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the playoffs. Of those 10 series, five of them were to send the winner to the NBA Finals. Here’s my kicker: the Warriors were (are) playing with 73 on their backs. They are playing for history. If they lose that series to the Thunder, that regular-season record has a big, bold asterisk next to it noting they didn’t win the championship. And that is a pressure that I don’t think the other nine teams had to face.
NHL – The 1942 Maple Leafs steal Stanley Cup from Detroit
Four teams in the NHL’s storied history have rallied back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs were the first, and arguably the most remarkable.
The Leafs overcame a 2-0 deficit midway through Game 4 to stave off elimination with a 4-3 win before rolling the Wings 9-3 in Game 5. Toronto shut out Detroit 3-0 in Game 6 on the Red Wings’ home ice to force the pivotal Game 7.
The Red Wings opened the scoring early in the second period in Game 7 on a Syd Howe goal, but it was all Toronto from there. The Maple Leafs celebrated with their fans in Maple Leaf Gardens after three third-period goals completed the comeback.
Why No. 2? NHL teams are 4 for 181 in 3-0 series comebacks. Only Toronto’s was for the Stanley Cup. That right there separates it from the other three NHL contenders: The 1975 New York Islanders, the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers and the 2014 Los Angeles Kings.
A 3-0 comeback can’t be beaten. But the NHL’s sterling 2.2 percent hit rate is high in some ways compared to…
MLB – The 2004 Red Sox make history, defeat rival Yankees
Trailing 3-0 in the American League Championship Series to their hated rivals, the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox were three outs away from elimination. Down 4-3 in the ninth inning, with Yankees soon-to-be Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera on the mound, the Red Sox mounted baseball’s most incredible playoff comeback.
A Kevin Millar walk, a Dave Roberts stolen base and an RBI single by Bill Mueller sent the game to extra innings, which the Red Sox won on a two-run walk-off home run by David Ortiz in the 12th. Game 5 also went to extras after the Red Sox scored two runs in the eighth to tie it 4-4. Again, Ortiz was the hero, scoring Johnny Damon on a walk-off single in the 14th inning.
Boston starting pitcher Curt Schilling owned Game 6, allowing only one run in seven innings despite playing with a torn tendon sheath in his ankle that had to be sutured in place and bled through his sock – adding to the series’ lore. Mark Bellhorn’s three-run home run in the fourth was enough offense for Boston, who won 4-2 to force Game 7.
With momentum, fictitious or not, firmly in their corner, the Red Sox rolled past the Yankees, jumping out to a 6-0 lead after two innings and winning Game 7 10-3 to cap Major League Baseball’s only 3-0 series comeback.
Why No. 1? As I said earlier, a 3-0 comeback can’t be beaten, but this is the only 3-0 series comeback in MLB history, placing it a notch above the NHL. The 2004 Red Sox’s improbable, borderline impossible comeback is surrounded by the stories that make sports great. The comeback came against their hated rivals. The comeback fueled them past the St. Louis Cardinals to earn the franchise’s first World Series title since 1918, snapping the infamous “Curse of The Bambino.” The comeback made history as being the only one of its kind (for now).
Note: Technically, the NHL’s 3-0 comebacks (4 out of 181) – at 2.2 percent – are less likely than MLB’s 1 out of 34 – 2.9 percent. So one could argue the statistics show it is harder to come back from a 3-0 deficit in hockey than in baseball. However, let’s give credit to baseball’s parity. Out of all of the postseason series played in baseball history, only 34 have started 3-0. A long-time lack of parity in the NHL has, in a lot of ways, skewered that number.