Last night the Miami Heat rallied from a 12-point deficit with 10-seconds remaining in the 3rd-quarter as well as a 5-point deficit with 28-seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime where they would eventually win 103-100.
The Utah Jazz have never experienced a comeback of similar magnitude during their 12 NBA Finals games (the closest being rallying from a 5-point deficit with under 3-minutes remaining in Game 4 of the ’97 Finals), but here’s a look back at their greatest comebacks in franchise history divided into several different categories.
|Biggest 2nd Half Comebacks (From Halftime Deficits)|
|2.||at Golden State||-19||38-57||107-105||12/4/84|
|8.||at L.A. Clippers||-15||37-52||103-99||2/16/94|
To this day, the 34-point comeback against Denver in 1996 remains the largest halftime deficit overcome in NBA history. The 2010 16-point deficit overcame in Charlotte also featured a 3-point deficit with 50-seconds remaining in which Utah closed the game with a perfect score-stop-score sequence that Deron Williams capped with the game-winner.
|Biggest 4th Half Comebacks (From End of 3rd Quarter Deficits)|
|5.||at Golden State||-16||66-82||107-105||12/4/84|
The 21-point 4th-quarter comeback in Atlanta was sparked by an unconventional 4-point play by rookie Ronnie Brewer and secured by a high-arching corner three from Mehmet Okur over the outstretched arm of Josh Smith.
While large-volume deficits are certainly note-worthy, in my opinion the most impressive comebacks occur in the final 60-seconds of a game. Trailing by two or more possessions in the final minute – win probability is extremely low. In order to overcome the deficit the team trailing has to play near-perfect basketball down the stretch – not only scoring but also making stops or benefiting from their opponent missing free throws.
This is what happened last night with the Heat trailing by 5 with 28-seconds left. LeBron missed a catch-and-shoot 3pt out of the timeout, but Miami got the offensive rebound and LeBron made a three with 20-seconds remaining to cut the lead to 2. The Heat intentionally fouled but Kawhi Leonard (an 83% foul shooter in the regular season) split 2 free throws and after LeBron missed another three, Ray Allen tied the game off a Chris Bosh offensive rebound to send the game to overtime where the Heat would eventually win. If any one of those plays goes differently, the Miami Heat’s season is over in a 6-game NBA Finals loss.
That’s what make final minute comebacks so impressive and intense.
Therefore, here are what I deem to be the greatest Utah Jazz final-minute comebacks this century. Again, to qualify the Jazz must have rallied from a two-possession deficit (4 points or more) in the final minute of the game to either win – or force an overtime period that would ultimately lead to victory.
Utah at Miami – 11/9/10
Final Score: Jazz 116, Heat 114
The Comeback: The original “Miracle in Miami” featured another large-volume comeback (19-point halftime deficit and 13-point 4th-qtr deficit) as well as some last minute magic. Fed up with his play, Jerry Sloan sat starting center Al Jefferson for the final 19-minutes opting to play youngster Kyrylo Fesenko and journeyman Francisco Elson at center down the stretch. Miami led 98-90 off two Dwayne Wade FT’s with just 37.3 seconds remaining. Utah called timeout and came out of it with a Paul Millsap pick&pop three to cut the Heat’s lead to 5. The Jazz intentionally fouled and caught a break when Heat guard Carlos Arroyo made only 1 of 2 FT’s. Utah answered with a Deron Williams pull-up three in transition and again fouled Arroyo – who made both FT’s this time to extend the lead to 101-96. Again Utah pushed in transition and this time the Heat doubled Deron who hit a trailing Millsap for another 3 to make it 101-99 with 12-seconds left. Two more Arroyo FT’s made it 103-99 before Millsap hit another step-back three with 4.3 seconds remaining.
Then the game got really crazy. The Jazz tried to intentionally foul but Deron Williams committed the foul (his 6th) before the ball was inbounded – resulting in Miami shooting 1 FT (Heat could pick the shooter) and retaining possession. Shockingly, Arroyo missed the free throw and Utah fouled Dwayne Wade who himself made just 1 of 2. Utah totally erased the 2-point deficit when Paul Millsap rebounded an errant C.J. Miles three and banked in the putback as time expired. Millsap’s 11-points in the final 28-seconds were incredible, but so were all the other plays that contributed to the simple fact that his 10th and 11th points signified the game-tying margin.
In overtime, the Jazz won the game on a brilliant transition feed from Earl Watson to Elson who was fouled and make both free throws with 4-tenths of a second remaining to give the Jazz an improbable 116-114 victory.
Cavaliers at Jazz – 1/14/10
Final Score: Jazz 97, Cavs 96
The Comeback: Before Sundiata Gaines could hit his legendary buzzer-beater, the Jazz had to make a serious comeback. Despite losing both Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko to injuries during the game, the Jazz rallied from a 12-point 3rd-quarter deficit behind their reserves to build a 12-point 4th-qtr lead before LeBron absolutely erupted with an array of dunks, free throws and three-pointers to put the Cavs ahead 91-85 with just 32.5 seconds remaining. Then the improbable began to occur. First Ronnie Price (a career 30% 3pt-shooter) hit a three to cut the deficit in half. Utah intentionally fouled and Anthony Parker (79% FT’s) made both to push it back to 93-88. Then Price drew a foul and made both FT’s to again make it a 3-point game with 23-seconds remaining. The Jazz then caught a break when Parker split 2 FT’s. Utah answered with Paul Millsap drawing a foul and converting both FT’s to draw within 94-92 with 15.7 seconds remaining. Parker again split both FT’s and Kyle Korver pulled the Jazz within 1 on a ridiculous over-the-backboard fadeaway. This time Cleveland got the ball to Zydrunas Ilgauskas but Big Z (a career 78% FT shooter) missed 1 FT to give Utah an opportunity to tie or win, and the rest is history.
Utah at Portland – 2/21/10
Final Score: Jazz 93, Trailblazers 89
The Comeback: Playing without Mehmet Okur on the road, the Jazz trailed the Blazers by 23-points midway through the 3rd-qtr. Utah gradually whittled the lead down to single-digits but still trailed by 4 with 30-seconds remaining. Deron Williams was able to draw a 2-shot foul where he made both FT’s to pull Utah within 2. The Jazz forced a miss and called timeout with 5.4-seconds remaining. Deron received the ball out of the timeout and pulled up for an 18-foot jumper that was off the mark. Fortunately, Carlos Boozer was there for the rebound and he was able to beat the buzzer and bank in a hook shot to send the game to OT. In OT the Jazz scored on 4 of their first 5 possessions to win 93-89.
Warriors at Jazz – Game 2 – Conference Semifinals – 5/9/07
Final Score: Jazz 127, Warriors 117 (OT)
The Comeback: In what became known as the “Derek Fisher Game” (Fisher arrived at the arena during the 3rd-qtr following a flight in from NY after his daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer), the Warriors stunned the Jazz when Matt Barnes banked in a jumpshot from the top of the key that put Golden State ahead by 5 (112-107) with 52-seconds remaining in the 4th-qtr. Andrei Kirilenko promptly missed a three but Boozer got Utah a second chance, and converted a layup with 35-seconds left to pull Utah within 3. Pressuring Baron Davis fullcourt, Fisher forced a backcourt turnover but Okur missed what would’ve been the game-tying three with 16-seconds left. Utah was forced to foul but Mickael Pietrus (a mid-60’s% FT shooter who grabbed the rebound) missed both free throws that kept the door cracked open. Okur again went for the tie and made a tough shot from the corner but had a foot on the line. Utah again fouled and again GS gave them a chance when Baron Davis split two FT’s. Down by 2 with 5.8 seconds left, Deron drove hard and pulled up from 12-feet to tie the score at 113-113 and send the game to OT where Utah would win going away.
By virtue of a single shot, Golden State could have won Game 1 and Game 2. Instead they dropped both and would eventually lose to Utah in 5 games.
Suns at Jazz – 11/18/06
Final Score: Jazz 120, Suns 117 (OT)
The Comeback: Utah trailed the hot-shooting Suns by 15 points with 11-minutes remaining in the 4th-qtr. Despite gradually chipping away at the lead, the Jazz still trailed by 6 with less than 50-seconds remaining. From there, Deron Williams shook Shawn Marion with a hesitation move to score a layup in which he also drew Amare Stoudemire’s 6th foul. The 3pt-play cut the lead to 3 with 47.8 sec left. On the ensuing possession Suns guard Leandro Barbosa missed an open layup and then fouled Okur on a 3pt-attempt with 13-seconds remaining. Okur calmly hit all 3 FT’s to send the game to OT where the Jazz eventually prevailed.
The Jazz improved to 9-1 and this victory signified the Jazz had returned to NBA relevancy after a three year hiatis.
Utah at Golden State – 2/27/06
Final Score: Jazz 117, Warriors 108 (OT)
The Comeback: The Warriors appeared to have the Jazz finished off as they held the ball and a 102-99 lead with 18.9 seconds remaining. Utah intentionally fouled but Warriors guard Derek Fisher split a pair at the line. Trailing 103-99, Utah responded in transition with a quick Okur three and the Jazz still had life trailing 102-103 with 11.8-sec left. Utah intentionally fouled again but Jason Richardson also went 1-2 at the line. The Jazz appeared to squander their last chance when Devin Brown missed the potential game-tying layup with 4.1 seconds left but GS kept the door open when Mike Dunleavy also went 1-2. Inbounding from halfcout with only 3.7-seconds remaining, Utah made Golden State pay for the missed FT’s when Matt Harpring nailed a three to tie the game at 105. In OT Utah outscored the shell-shocked Warriors 12-3.
Chicago at Utah – 2/6/06
Final Score: Jazz 109, Bulls 107 (OT)
The Comeback: This doesn’t technically meet the criteria but it still represents an improbably Jazz comeback. Utah trailed Chicago in overtime by a score of 106-100 with less than 90-seconds remaining. Utah’s comeback started with a Keith McLeod layup which was followed by a Chicago miss and loose-ball foul on the rebound which resulted in Okur shooting (and making) 2 FT’s. The Jazz then forced a Bulls’ turnover and Matt Harpring hit a baseline jumper to tie the game with 36-seconds left. Chicago retook the lead on a Tyson Chandler FT with 25-seconds remaining and appeared to have the outcome firmly in control after Harpring missed a baseline jumper, but Kirilenko and Devin Brown combined to force a backcourt turnover which resulted in a spot-up Mehmet Okur three to lift the Jazz to a dramatic 109-107 victory.
Utah at Charlotte – 11/16/04
Final Score: Jazz 107, Bobcats 105
The Comeback: The Jazz visited the expansion Bobcats off to a 5-1 start, but that didn’t prevent 1-4 Charlotte from racing out to an 18-point lead at the end of the 1st-quarter. The Jazz played catch-up the rest of the night but appeared to be in serious trouble when Keith Bogans scored the last of his team-high 28 points to put Charlotte up 105-101 with just 21-seconds left. Utah called a timeout and answered with Raja Bell hitting a three-pointer from the left-corner to cut the lead to 105-104 with 18.4-seconds remaining. The Jazz intentionally fouled but Keith Bogans reverted back to Keith Bogans and missed both FT’s. Utah took another timeout and this time Bell drew a two-shot foul which put the Jazz ahead for good. With their second consecutive victory the Jazz improved to 6-1 which signified the high-water mark of the 2004-05 season. Catastrophic injuries would set in and the Jazz would not win two consecutive games over their next 29 contests.
Dallas at Utah – 4/21/01
Final Score: Jazz 88, Mavericks 86
The Comeback: The 4th-seeded veteran Jazz appeared to be in serious trouble against the young up-and-coming Dallas Mavericks playing their first postseason game in the Nowitzki/Nash/Finley era. The Mavs held an 86-82 lead with under a minute to play when 35-year old reserve Danny Manning (who shot just 7-28 from behind the arc in the regular season) calmly hit a three with 58-seconds left. Utah got their much-needed stop on the following possession and John Stockton drew a shooting foul in transition where his 2 free throws put Utah ahead with 25.8 seconds left. On the next possession Karl Malone stripped Nowitzki to force a turnover that Donyell Marhsall converted into a 1-2 trip to the foul line. Dallas had one final chance but Finley’s desperation heave at the buzzer was off the mark.
The Jazz may never have a last-minute comeback of the same magnitude and importance as the Miami Heat did against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, but they certainly have had several since the turn of the century. While the significance of those games pales in comparison to Miami’s, one requirement they all share is you have to be pretty good and pretty fortunate to pull one off. It’s a tough combination to achieve, but when it happens it’s a victory that is often remembered for a long time to come.
Note: This is not considered to be a complete list of two-possession final-minute comeback wins by the Jazz since 2000. For the most part I identified the listed games off memory and not by researching every Jazz game played from 2000-2013. If any further comebacks meeting the criteria are found, please list them in the comment section and I’ll be sure to add them to the main post.