Can Wizards become ninth team to come back from 3-1 deficit?


(Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

A second-half meltdown in Game 4 has put the Wizards in a three-games-to-one hole with the series heading back to Indianapolis for Game 5 on Tuesday. The bandwagon is emptying. Things look bleak. #dcsprots. #SoWizards. It had to end this way, right?

Perhaps you’ve heard that only eight teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, and only two teams have done it by winning two of the final three games on the road. Will the Wizards be the next?

There was a time — before postseason disappointment was the norm around here — when that question wouldn’t seem quite so absurd. The 1979 Bullets, who won the NBA title the year before, needed seven games to get by Atlanta in the first round before digging a three-games-to-one hole against San Antonio in the Eastern Conference finals. All was not lost.

From Washington Post staff writer Paul Attner’s Game 4 story:

George Gervin, San Antonio’s spectacular Ice Man, might have put Washington’s hopes for another NBA title in cold storage tonight with an amazing 42-point performance. Gervin shot the Bullets out of the fourth game of the Eastern Conference championship playoffs with 20 points in the third quarter to allow the Spurs to coast to a 118-102 victory that gave them a commanding 3-1 margin in the best-of-seven series.

Washington, which got only six points from forward Bob Dandridge and horrible shooting from its guards, especially Kevin Grevey, now has to win three straight to salvage the round. Only two teams in NBA history have managed to pull off that feat.

“Hey, we haven’t lost yet,” Washington Coach Dick Motta said the following day. “No one should give up on us, not just now. But we have to pull out the stops in this one, if necessary. Otherwise, the series is over. We know that.”

The Bullets won the next three games to return to the Finals, where they lost to the Sonics in five games. The other teams that have come back from 3-1 series deficits:

2006 Phoenix Suns: Rallied to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs before losing to Dallas in the Western Conference finals.

2003 Detroit Pistons: Rallied to defeat Orlando in the first-round of the Eastern Conference playoffs before losing in the Eastern Conference finals.

1997 Miami Heat: Rallied to defeat New York in the Eastern Conference semifinals before losing to Chicago in the Eastern Conference finals.

1995 Houston Rockets: Rallied to defeat Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals, defeated San Antonio in the Western Conference finals and won the NBA title.

1981 Boston Celtics: Rallied to defeat Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference finals and went on to win the NBA title.

1970 Los Angeles Lakers: Rallied to defeat Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals, swept Atlanta in the Western Conference finals and lost the NBA finals.

1968 Boston Celtics: Rallied to defeat Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference finals and went on to win the NBA title.

Scott Allen writes about all things DC sports. Follow him on Twitter @ScottSAllen or e-mail him if you’ve got a tip to share.
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