In any seven-game series, the biggest adjustments by coaches are usually made between Games 1 and 2.
Those adjustments – and a sense of urgency – have contributed to some of the best Game 2 showdowns in recent NBA Finals history.
As we will do throughout the Finals, we have compiled a list of the five best Game 2′s since 1984, when David Stern became commissioner (and the playoffs went to a 16-team format).
In all five games listed below, the team that lost Game 1 bounced back to win Game 2. Three of the games went to overtime. In some cases, the win meant nothing, serving as a mere speed bump for the opposing team. In others, it permanently turned the momentum of the series.
If you missed our best Game 1′s, click here.
5. BOUNCING BACK FROM THE BOSTON MASSACRE: The 1985 Finals was a rematch of the previous year, when the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games – and improved to 8-0 against them in the championship round. In Game 1, the Celtics embarrassed the Lakers, 148-114, in a game known as “The Bostin Massacre.” People were already throwing dirt on the Lakers, particularly center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who looked old and slow in scoring 12 points. However, “The Lord of the Rings” showed he was far from done, toasting Robert Parish for 30 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks. Michael Cooper scored 22 points off the bench and Magic Johnson added 14 and 13 assists for the Lakers in a 109-102 front-running victory. Ten days later, the Lakers won again in Boston for their first title over the Celtics. Coach Pat Riley wore that season’s championship ring for many years afterward.
4. THE PISTONS GIVE ONE AWAY: The Detroit Pistons were heavy underdogs going into the 2004 Finals but surprised the favored Los Angeles Lakers by winning Game 1 on the road. They were just as good in Game 2 and appeared to be headed home with a 2-0 lead when they gave away a win by fouling when they shouldn’t have and not fouling when they should have. Detroit held a six-point lead with under 40 seconds to play when Shaquille O’Neal rebounded Kobe Bryant’s missed 3-pointer. Instead of letting him score and maintaining a two-possession lead, Ben Wallace fouled O’Neal, who made the free throw to cut the deficit in half. After Chauncey Billups missed a leaner, the Pistons had chances to foul O’Neal on the inbounds catch and Luke Walton after he took a handoff and dribbled. Walton handed off to Bryant, who drilled the tying 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left. The Lakers never trailed in overtime as the Pistons shot 1-of-9 and lost, 99-91. At the time, it was considered a devastating loss because no one believed Detroit could beat LA four times, much less after giving away a win. But the Lakers, who had been bickering all season, imploded and lost the next three games as Bryant sabotaged the series, ending his tandem with O’Neal.
3. CLYDE DREXLER’S PERFECT PREDICTION: In 1990, the defending champion Detroit Pistons beat the Portland Trail Blazers in the opener on their home floor. At the shootaround prior to Game 2, Blazers star Clyde Drexler made a bold prediction to the media. “We’re winning tonight, and we’re not coming back,” he said, implying that Portland would win the next three games on its home floor. Drexler backed up his words with 33 points, and the Blazers took a lead into the fourth quarter before Pistons center Bill Laimbeer caught fire, draining six 3-pointers to tie the Finals record at the time. The game went to overtime, where two 3-pointers by Laimbeer helped give the Pistons a 102-98 lead before the Blazers scored six straight points. Another 3-pointer by Laimbeer gave Detroit a 105-104 lead with 4.1 seconds left before Drexler drove hard on Dennis Rodman and drew a foul. He made both shots for a 106-105 lead, and Cliff Robinson preserved it by blocking James Edwards’ shot at the buzzer. As for Drexler’s prediction, he was right on the money. The Blazers lost all three games at Portland as Detroit repeated as champions.
2. DIRK DOES IT FOR DALLAS: Until this game in 2011, Dirk Nowitzki had been unfairly cast as a great player who could not get it done in the clutch. (Kinda like someone else we know, hunh?) As the alpha dog for the Dallas Mavericks, he shouldered the blame for the team’s 2006 Finals loss to Miami and first-round exits in 2007, 2008 and 2010. It looked like a remarkable playoff run was over after Dallas lost the opener to Miami and trailed by 15 points in the final period of this one. But Jason Terry sparked a comeback with six straight points before Nowitzki took over in the final three minutes, scoring Dallas’ last nine points. His 3-pointer with 26 seconds left gave the Mavs a 93-90 lead, and when Mario Chalmers got loose for a tying 3-pointer, Nowitzki did it again, driving past Chris Bosh and around Udonis Haslem for a layup with 3.6 seconds remaining before Dallas held on for a 95-93 win. The stunned Heat never fully recovered, losing in six games as Nowitzki won Finals MVP and handed the unclutch label to Miami’s LeBron James.
1. HENDERSON STOLE THE BALL: In 1984, NBA fans were treated to the first Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers Finals matchup in 15 years. The Lakers won Game 1, 115-109, on Boston’s floor and late in Game 2 were leading by two points with possession in the backcourt. James Worthy was inbounding from the sideline and had Magic Johnson right in front of him but chose to throw a crosscourt pass that was intercepted by Gerald Henderson, who streaked in for the tying layup. The Lakers had another chance in regulation, but Johnson – who had 27 points, 10 boards and nine assists – lost track of the clock and dribbled it out before getting up a shot. In overtime, Boston’s M.L. Carr had a steal and dunk that sealed the win. The Lakers also blew a late lead in Game 4, another overtime loss. The Celtics eventually won in seven games. Afterward, Bird said, “Let’s face it. The Lakers should have won in four games.”