On this day in NBA Finals history: Celtics mount largest Finals comeback in 37 years
Boston beat the Lakers in Game 4 of the 2008 Finals after trailing by 24 points
That’s all Kobe Bryant could really say after Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals. Trailing the throwback series against the Boston Celtics, 2-1, Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers pounced on their opponent. By the end of the first quarter, the Lakers possessed a 35-14 advantage over Boston and increased their lead to as many as 24 points before halftime.
Yet somehow, the Celtics battled back to claim a 97-91 win and 3-1 series lead. No team had ever recovered from more than a 15-point first-quarter deficit to win a Finals game until Boston’s inspired performance at the Staples Center on June 12, 2008. And according to Elias Sports Bureau, the night produced the largest Finals comeback since 1971. Out of the 30 combined players between the rosters of the two teams, only two were alive back then: Boston’s Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown, who were both born in 1969.
“As far as we were down, nothing was going right for us, and we just hung in there,” said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.
Game 4 reached its ugliest point when Sasha Vujacic buried a 3-pointer with 6:46 left in the second quarter to give the Lakers their largest lead of 24 points. Boston, however, immediately responded with a 12-o run to trim the deficit to 45-33, although the Lakers still took an 18-point lead into halftime.
During the break, Celtics captain Paul Pierce made an adjustment that ultimately helped change the shape of the game.
“Paul came to me at halftime and said, ‘I want to go guard Kobe,’ ” Rivers said.
After missing just four shots in the first half, the Lakers’ fearless leader came out of halftime ice-cold. Bryant finished with a forgettable 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting from the floor after the Celtics threw him out of sync enough to affect the flow of the game for Los Angeles and allow Boston to capitalize on it.
“They were determined not to let me beat them,” said Bryant, who had a combined 90 points in the first three games of the series. “I saw three, four bodies every time I touched the ball.”
The Celtics pieced together a 21-3 run in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter to emerge as victors, despite the way their night began.
Like Bryant, Celtics big man Kevin Garnett was concise in his summation of Game 4.
“I can taste it,” he said in reference to a championship.
Two games later, Garnett and the Celtics closed out the series to win the franchise its first title since 1986.