A collapse is a little different in the NBA than it is to the NFL for example. In the NBA it is possible to build a seemingly insurmountable lead in any game, any series or over the course of a season. For the reason collapses in the NBA seem to resonate more than they do in other sports.
The anatomy of a collapse however is very interesting. A collapse can sometimes be a choke job, where the better team suddenly relaxes and lets their weaker opponent begin to run them down. It can be something as simple as a change of luck, perhaps the breaks that were going for one team suddenly spin the other way. It can even be a team who started hot, and performed above their actual level, just regressing back to the level they are actually at.
With all that in mind it becomes obvious that each collapse is unique and that no two teams can be classified in the same way when they give up a big lead. Collapses can even trigger an effect which sees a team fall from relevance for a longer period of time. A team that falls apart from a 3-1 series lead for example can often find themselves starting the next season slowly as the playoff hangover takes effect. If this malaise is not turned around quickly, then the fortunes of a franchise can be dramatically different from the year before.
With all that in mind here is a look at the 10 most epic collapses in the history of the NBA.
10 2006-07 Minnesota Timberwolves
9 Philadelphia 76ers vs. Portland Trailblazers – 1977 NBA Finals
8 Dallas Mavericks vs. Golden State Warriors – 2007 Western Conference Quarterfinals
7 Seattle SuperSonics vs. Denver Nuggets – 1994 Western Conference Quarterfinals
In a time before the Mavericks imploded against the Warriors, there was no precedent for what the Nuggets did to the Sonics in 1994. Seattle had dominated the NBA regular season putting up a 63-19 record in the process. The Nuggets stumbled into the playoffs with a 42-40 record, the worst of any playoff team in the league that year, and we supposed to just be happy to be in the knockout tournament at all.
With Michael Jordan having retired from the NBA, the Bulls were no longer championship favorites and the door seemed to be open for the Sonics to win it all.
When Seattle took an easy 2-0 series lead, winning the two games by a combined 34 points, everything was going exactly as predicted. The Sonics had three chances to close out the series, as the opening round at the time was a best-of-five series.
6 New York Knicks vs Indiana Pacers (Reggie Miller) – 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 1
5 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics – 2008 NBA Finals Game 4
4 2010-11 Utah Jazz
This Jazz team was rolling along quite nicely before the All-Star break, compiling a 31-26 record which should have allowed them to push on and comfortably pick up a low seed in the Western Conference playoff field. Instead the Jazz ownership decided that the best combination of events around the All-Star game was to trade away franchise player Deron Williams. Jerry Sloan resigned from the head coaching position with reports of conflicts with his players being the reason for his departure.
3 Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat – 2006 NBA Finals Game 3
2 Portland Trailblazers vs. Los Angeles Lakers – 2000 Western Conference Finals
This is a unique entry in our list as it was a collapse which led to an even bigger collapse. The 2000 L.A. Lakers had Shaq and Kobe doing their thing long before that particular marriage went south. In this Western Conference Finals series the Lakers quickly jumped to a 3-1 lead and the series appeared to be completely over. Something strange happened however, as Shaq and Kobe seemed to forget that they had to win a fourth game to put the Blazers away. Two upset wins later and the series was tied 3-3.
1 Los Angeles Clippers vs. Houston Rockets – 2015 Western Conference Semifinals
This may be an element of the cult of the new to this pick, but anyone who doubts that this Clippers collapse won’t stand the test of time hasn’t watched enough basketball this year. The Clippers became just the ninth team in NBA history to throw away a 3-1 lead in a playoff series and were the first to do so since L.A. neighbors the Lakers did so against the Phoenix Suns back in 2006. The key to the spectacular nature of this collapse is in the early games. The Clippers won Games 3 and 4 by a combined 58 points, taking a 3-1 lead in the series and looking like a worthy contender for the NBA Title.
It was at this point that the Clippers long and emotionally draining opening round series against the Spurs seemed to catch up with them. They just weren’t the same team in Games 5, 6 and 7 as Houston came roaring back to take the series and advance. Game 6 stands as the most damming part of the collapse, as the Clippers seemed to be on their way to a series win with a 19-point lead in the second half, but the Rockets would outscore the Clippers 51-20 from there, forcing Game 7 and going on to win that game convincingly as well.
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