Best Single-Game Comebacks in Boston Sports’ Playoff History

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Best Single-Game Comebacks in Boston Sports' Playoff History

Greg M. Cooper- USA TODAY Sports

Boston sports teams truly have a knack for phenomenal comebacks.

Modern-day Boston fans will never forget the Red Sox comeback in the 2004 ALCS when they became the first (and only) team in MLB history to erase a 3-0 series deficit to beat their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees, en route to defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in four games as the franchise ended its 86-year World Series drought. While the Boston Red Sox series victory over the Bronx bombers is the greatest comeback in sports history, this list focuses only on individual game comebacks in Boston sports playoff history.

Yes, I am fully aware the Sox made an improbable comeback in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS when they rallied to tie the score off the best closer in league-history, Mariano Rivera, after entering the ninth down a run. The Sox won in 12 innings via a David Ortiz two-run home run off Yankees reliever Paul Quantrill, but the Sox pulled off another astounding comeback in Game 5. Trailing 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth, they scored two-runs in the bottom of the frame. Ortiz hit a towering home run to the Green Monster seats in left field to start the rally before Jason Varitek tied the game with a sacrifice fly to center field off Rivera. The Sox won this contest in 14 innings as David Ortiz hit a blooper to center field off Yankees-reliever Esteban Loaiza to score Johnny Damon from second base.

Boston fans are so spoiled that these two miraculous comebacks did not even crack the top five in their city’s famed-sports history!

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5. 1986 ALCS Game 5- Boston Red Defeat California Angels 7-6 (F/11 Innings)

Bob DeChiara- USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox entered the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS versus the California Angels trailing 5-2 and were down three games to one in the best-of-seven series. Mike Witt of the California Angels had been hosing down Sox batters all day long and was a mere two outs away from his second complete game of the series as he attempted to send the franchise to its first-ever World Series.

With one out and a runner on first, Don Baylor of the Red Sox hit a two-strike, two run-home run to cut the deficit to 5-4. Witt was replaced after retiring the next batter. Gary Lucas was then brought in to face catcher Rich Gedman, who had been 3-for-3 in the game against Witt, including a double and a home run. But with his very first pitch, Lucas hit Gedman, and was replaced by closer Donnie Moore. Moore brought the Angels within one strike of its first-ever AL pennant, before Dave Henderson of the Red Sox crushed a home run into the left field stands. The Red Sox led 6-5 heading into the bottom of the ninth, but gave up the game-tying run in the latter frame. But, Henderson delivered for the Sox again, hitting a sacrifice fly in the top of the 11th as the Sox won 7-6.

The Sox went on to win the next two games in the series to win the AL pennant but fell to the New York Mets in seven games in heartbreaking fashion in the 1986 World Series.

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4. 2013 NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 7- Boston Bruins Defeat Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 (OT)

Bob DeChiara - USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Bruins staved off elimination in an improbable fashion at the TD Garden in a win-or-go-home game in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round. The Toronto Maple Leafs opened a 4-1 lead in the third period of the decisive game, but Nathan Horton cut the deficit to two with 11:52 remaining in regulation. The Bruins trailed by two goals with less than 90 seconds remaining before scoring twice in a 31 second span. Milan Lucic scored the first goal with 1:22 remaining before Patrice Bergeron tied the score with 51 seconds to play. It was only fitting that Bergeron scored the series-winning goal just six minutes into the overtime as the Bruins won in epic fashion in front of their home fans.

The Bruins became the first team to overcome a three-goal deficit in the third period of a Game 7 in Stanley Cup Playoff History. With the New York Rangers next on tap, the Bruins look to ride their current momentum to a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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3. 2008 ALCS Game 5- Boston Red Sox Defeat Tampa Bay Rays 8-7

Mark L. Baer- USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox outdid their 2004 squad in terms of a single-game comeback just four years later against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS. Trailing 3-1 in the series and facing a 7-0 deficit in the bottom of the seventh, the Red Sox were down to their final seven outs in the contest. With runners on first and third, Dustin Pedroia hit an RBI single off Grant Balfour to get the Red Sox on the board. David Ortiz hit an ensuing three-run home run to cut the lead to 7-4. In the eighth inning, J.D. Drew hit a two-run homer to right field off Dan Wheeler. Later in the frame, Coco Crisp ripped an RBI single to right field to score Mark Kotsay from second to tie the game at seven.

J.P. Howell retired the first two batters in the bottom of the ninth. Then, Kevin Youkilis hit a grounder to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who fired the ball into the stands, allowing Youkilis to advance to second. The error proved costly as two batters later, Drew hit a game-winning single over the head of right fielder Gabe Gross to win the game.

The Red Sox lost the series in seven games to the upstart Rays, but the reminiscences of the Game 5 rally will be engraved in Sox fans hearts forever.

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2. 2002 NBA Eastern Conference Finals Game 3- Boston Celtics Defeat New Jersey Nets 94-90

Greg M. Cooper- USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics entered the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals down 74-53 to the New Jersey Nets in front of their home crowd. The TD Garden, known as the “Fleet Center” at the time, was stunned at how badly the Celtics were being humiliated, on their own court nonetheless. A distraught Paul Pierce even saw Nets’ reserves laughing at his team on the bench. Before the quarter started, Antoine Walker got up in Pierce’s face during the huddle to motivate him and to tell him to stop feeling sorry for himself. Pierce, the Celtics’ Captain and best player, missed 12 of his 14 shots through the first three quarters.

Pierce seemed like a new player in the fourth quarter, driving to the rim recklessly as he scored with ease in the paint via nifty layups. Pierce scored three baskets from inside during an 11-0 run that got the crowd back into the game and cut the Nets' lead to 74-64. Celtics forward Rodney Rodgers connected on a pair of free throws with 3:12 remaining to cut the deficit to 88-82. Later, Pierce trimmed the lead to three, 90-87, after driving in for his sixth layup of the quarter. After Nets guard Kerry Kittles missed a 3-pointer, Pierce was fouled going to the basket with 46 seconds left. He made both shots, giving the Celtics their first lead since 1-0. With the C's now leading 91-90, Kittles had the ball swiped away by Celtics guard Kenny Anderson, who scooped up the loose ball and finished the layup.

The Celtics won 94-90 putting the crowd at the Fleet Center into a frenzy. New Jersey shot 4-for-22 with six turnovers in the final 12 minutes, while Boston was 11-for-19 from the field and 18-for-21 from the line. Pierce cemented himself as a Celtic legend in this incredulous comeback, scoring 19 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics rallied from what was a 27 point deficit in the third quarter to win and complete the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history.

The Celtics lost the series 4-2, but no one will ever forget the memories of that faithful day at the Fleet Center.

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1. 2008 NBA Finals Game 4- Boston Celtics Defeat Los Angeles Lakers 97-91

Brian Spurlock- USA TODAY Sports

Thought “The Truth” and the Celtics could complete only one unbelievable comeback? Think again! Flash-forward six seasons and the Celtics, led by the “Big Three” of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, were up two games to one in the NBA Finals against their arch rival, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers entered the game with an extreme sense of urgency and pounded the C’s in the first quarter, jumping out to a 35-14 lead, the largest first-quarter lead in NBA Finals history. The Celtics appeared doomed as they trailed by 18 points at halftime. By the midway point of the third quarter, the Lakers had increased their lead to 24 over the Celtics.

The Celtics decided to insert “Instant Offense” Eddie House into the game at this point. House knocked down two three-pointers amid a dominating 21-3 Celtics run to end the third quarter. The Celtics had seized the momentum in the game, down by just two, 73-71, to start the final quarter. Eddie House gave the Celtics their first lead of the game with an 18-foot jumper with 4:07 remaining. The Celtics led by two with under two minutes in regulation when James Posey knocked down the dagger, a three-pointer from the corner that gave Boston a 92-87 lead. The Celtics bench outscored the Lakers bench 35–15, 29 of those points coming from House and James Posey. Ray Allen scored 19, Kevin Garnett posted 16 points and corralled 11 rebounds, while Pierce added a game-high 20 points of his own in the unfathomable comeback.

The Celtics' victory in Game 4 was the largest comeback in an NBA Finals game since 1971. The Celtics won Game 4 and eventually beat the Lakers in six games to win their first NBA Championship in 22 years, as the franchise won its NBA-best 17th title, a season after finishing with the second-worst record in the league.