Historic Comeback Numbers Show No Lead Is Safe In Today’s NBA

There were 28 comebacks from a 20-point or larger deficit this season

Lou Williams drives on Alfonzo McKinnie. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Lou Williams drives on Alfonzo McKinnie. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
By Evan Bleier / May 22, 2019 11:04 am

Do call it a comeback.

Highlighted by the Clippers rallying from 31 points down to beat the Warriors in the first round of the NBA playoffs, this has been the year of the comeback in the NBA.

For the Clippers specifically, it was their third comeback of the season from a deficit of 25 points or more. Prior to this year, no team had more than one such rally since play-by-play data became available in 1996-97.

But the comeback was not unique to Los Angeles, as there were 28 different comebacks from a 20-point or larger deficit in the 2018-19 season, two more than in the previous year. While that increase may not sound so crazy, consider that prior to this year and last, there were never more than 19 such comebacks in any season.

The biggest reason for the rising number of comebacks is the rising number of leads of 20 or more points.

This season, there were 491 games this season in which a team had a 20-point lead. That’s a marked increase from less than a decade ago as there were just 369 games featuring a lead of 20-plus points in 2010-11.

The big leads can largely be attributed to an increase in the pace of play and of the 3-point shot in the NBA.

Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts saw his team fall victim to a number of comebacks against Golden State while being swept out of the Western Conference Finals by the Warriors.

“Because of the proliferation of 3 shots, it’s a great equalizer and certainly allows you to come back in games quicker than before,” Stotts said. “[With a lead] I find myself and my coaching staff all throughout the fourth quarter saying, ‘Don’t give up 3s. Don’t give up 3s. Don’t give up 3s.’ I think that’s the biggest mentality. On the flip side of it, if you’re the team coming from behind, you’re basically saying, ‘If you’re open, let it fly. We’ve got to make up some ground.'”

Editor’s Note: RealClearLife, a news and lifestyle publisher, is now a part of InsideHook. Together, we’ll be covering current events, pop culture, sports, travel, health and the world.

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