In the last five years, some of the greatest comeback stories in NBA history have happened. We're not talking about coming back from a big deficit or making up a lot of games in the standings. We're talking about players who used to be stars, deemed to be washed up, who came up with huge single-game performances to lead their team to victory.
Just like old times. Here are the top four comeback performances by former superstars over the past several years.
1. Derrick Rose (Oct. 31, 2018)
D-Rose was the inspiration for this article. In case you haven't heard the MVP dropped a career-high 50 (FIFTY!) points two days ago on Halloween. The Timberwolves guard grew to fame for his electrifying athleticism during his early days as a Chicago Bull. In his first career playoff game as a rookie in 2009, Rose dropped 36 points in a win at Boston against the defending champion Celtics to tie Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's rookie record for most points scored in a playoff debut. He was the youngest MVP in league history at 22 years old in 2011 when he averaged 25.0 points per game (PPG), 7.7 assists per game (APG) and 4.0 rebounds per game (RPG) for the No. 1 seed Bulls. Rose was an All-Star in three of his first four seasons as a pro and seemed to be well on his way to stardom, but injuries changed everything.
In the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Rose suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in Game 1, as the No. 1 seed Bulls were upset by the No. 8 seed Sixers. Rose missed all of the next season (2012-13) recovering from the injury and hoped to be back to 100 percent by the start of the 2013-14 season – which he was – but it all went wrong again. Less than a month into his return season, Rose suffered a torn meniscus – this time in his right knee – and he missed the rest of that season after playing just 10 games. Rose returned for the 2014-15 season, playing as a lesser version of himself until he torn the meniscus in his right knee yet again in February. He returned for the playoffs and hit a buzzer-beater against the Cavs, but he still wasn't the same. He was relatively healthy throughout the 2015-16 season, but it was his final in Chicago. He went to the Knicks in 2016-17, playing 64 games and averaging 18.0 PPG, but he torn his meniscus AGAIN – this time in his left knee – to cut another season short due to injury. Last season was another injury-riddled one, and Rose even contemplated retirement while playing for the Cavs and Timberwolves, but he finished the season out playing just 25 total games.
All of this sad, sad storytelling bring us to Halloween night, 2018. In his first start of the season, Rose was vintage in a 128-125 win over the Jazz. The final stat line: 50 points, four rebounds, six assists, two steals and a game-clinching block as time expired. It was surreal. Perhaps even better than the performance was the outpouring of support after.
First, we had the emotions right after the game:
Then, we all had to fight back tears watching him speak:
And finally, the amazing support from his fellow players around the league:
Amazing, amazing stuff. Here's to hoping D-Rose can keep it up and stay healthy this season. He's still only 30 years old, which is incredible because it feels like he's been around forever. Guess we'll have to wait and see.
2. Ray Allen (June 18, 2013)
This one hurts, but it was an unbelievable moment. Allen was my favorite player growing up as a Celtics fan, and it was painful when he went to Miami to play with LeBron. In his prime, Allen was one of the best two-way shooting guards in the NBA. He averaged over 20 points per game from 1999 until 2007, won the 2008 NBA Finals with the Celtics and was a 10-time All-Star. But by the time he moved to South Beach in 2012, he was on the tail-end of his career at 37 years old. He was a great role player to complement LeBron with his deadeye 3-point shooting, but no one could've expected him to have one of the biggest shots in NBA history this late in his career.
The 2013 NBA Finals went to a Game 6 in Miami with the Heat trailing the Spurs three games to two. LeBron was about to fall to 1-3 in the Finals for his career. The Heat were down 10 heading into the fourth quarter, but forced overtime after Allen made an improbable 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining to tie the game.
To have the presence of mind to get both feet behind the line, stay in bounds AND get the shot off in time is unreal. Allen was one of the most meticulous players in NBA history, arriving to the arena hours and hours before every game, so this shouldn't have surprised anyone. But, wow. I still get mixed emotions watching this shot today. Not sure I'll ever get over Ray leaving me for LeBron, but there's no denying this was one of the greatest plays in league history.
3. Kobe Bryant (April 13, 2016)
I really didn't want to put this one, but I felt obligated to. Kobe's place in NBA history is secure, in my opinion. He's clearly a top-15 player of all time, even if some people (cough cough Peter Dewey) wildly believe he's top-five. Over the final few years of his career, Kobe regressed and dealt with some injuries. He played just six games in 2013-14 and 35 in 2014-15. After those two years, he decided 2015-16 would be his final ride, and he was able to grind of 66 games while battling through injuries. The Lakers were awful. I mean, awful. Going into the final game of the season, LA was 16-65, second worst in the league, only behind the 10-win Sixers (LOL).
This last game of his career was absolutely peak Kobe, though. The stats: 60 points, four rebounds, four assists, 22-for-50 shooting, 6-for-21 from 3-point range, 10-for-12 from the line. Yep, he took 50 shots. And, yes, he shot a combined 44 percent that day. Peak Kobe. Still, people won't remember that (unfortunately). They'll remember one number: 60.
4. Paul Pierce (May 9, 2015)
Finally, we get to my personal favorite. Didn't want to come off as biased, but this is without a doubt the best moment in Wizards franchise history. Pierce became a legend with the Celtics throughout the 2000s. He was a 10-time All-Star, 2008 NBA Finals MVP and averaged at least 16.5 PPG in each of his 15 years as a Celtic (>18 PPG in 14 of the 15). The Truth got dealt to Brooklyn for a massive haul at age 36 in 2013, and he was never really the same player. Pierce played one year for the Nets before signing with the Wizards in 2014-15, averaging 11.9 PPG in 73 games. Solid for a role player behind John Wall and Bradley Beal.
His greatest moment, though, came in the second round of the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks. With the series tied at one and Game 3 tied at 101, the Wiz went to The Truth for the game-winner.
Pierce buried one of his patented mid-range jumpers, with multiple defenders draped all over him, to win the game and create one of the all-time postgame interviews. "Did you call bank?" Chris Broussard asked Pierce as he scowled into the distance. "I CALLED GAME!" Pierce yelled back. Legend.