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The Greatest Comeback: Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Finals victory or Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League final win?

Drew Goodsell | 10 June 2020

Who gets your vote today’s Greatest Comeback poll?

Seven quarter-final spots have been decided, and we’ve got our final two sensational comebacks ready to go head to head for the eighth and final spot.

We’ve had some historic horse racing moments, footballing redemptions, a rugby world cup masterclass, and many more.

But today, it’s the turn of the NBA, where Cleveland Cavaliers came back against the league’s defending champions to win the 2016 Larry O’Brien trophy, up against Liverpool’s unforgettable Champions League comeback in Istanbul, coming from behind to win the 2005 final.

Two worthy contenders, but which one gets your vote to fill the final quarter-final spot? Let us know what you’re picking.

Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Finals victory v Golden State Warriors

After his unsuccessful first spell with his first NBA side, LeBron James returned to Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 in an attempt to win the side’s first NBA Championship, following his two championship rings during a four-year spell at Miami Heat

Narrowly missing out in his first season back with the Cavs, they gained the number one seed in the East, sweeping aside Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors on the way to a second successive NBA Finals.

They’d face defending champions Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals, but this year, the Warriors has finished the season with a 73-9 record, the best record in an 82-game NBA season.

It looked like LeBron and his Cavs side faced a monumental task to stop the Warriors retaining their crown. And it was a task which got even tougher after three games of the 2016 Finals.

The Warriors had home court advantage, meaning four of the best of seven series would be played at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. They won their first two at home, before Cleveland pipped them back in game three, their first of two at home, leaving the Cavs 2-1 down.

Stephen Curry Golden State Warriors

Game four didn’t go to plan for LeBron and his Cavs. The Warriors came out strong, leading after the first quarter before Cleveland found their stride to be leading by five at the half. Warriors guard Stephen Curry had a night to remember though, leading Golden State’s charge in the second half, scoring 38 points on the night and eventually taking game four in Cleveland, by 11 points.

The Cavs headed to the West Coast for game five, with everyone writing off their chances. They needed to win three straight, including two on Warriors ground to secure their first NBA Championship and avoid a seemingly inevitable second NBA Finals defeat in two years.

Irving and LeBron led the Cavs in game five, scoring 41 points each in a 112-97 road win, putting the Warriors champagne on ice heading back to Cleveland.

LeBron was at it again on the Cavs home court, scoring 41 points for a second straight game, and leading the Cavs charge to tie the best of seven series at 3-3 after a 115-101 win. The unlikeliest of comebacks couldn’t seriously be on, against the team with the greatest record in NBA history, could it?

LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers

Home court advantage was back in Golden State’s favour for the all-or-nothing game seven. Cavs came out hot, leading by one in a close first quarter, before the Warriors turned on the style, leading by seven at the half.

Draymond Green was spearheading the Warriors attack this time, scoring a game-high 32 points, grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds and providing a team-high 9 assists. The Cavs came back, outscoring Golden State 33-27 in the third, cutting the lead to just one.

But it was a lead the Warriors couldn’t hold on to. In a low scoring fourth quarter, the Warriors scored only 13 points, with Kyrie Irving scoring the go-ahead three-point bucket to lead by three, before James scored one of two free throws to make it a four-point game.

Despite Curry having the ball for the final possession, Cleveland guard Iman Shumpert protected the basket well, forcing Curry into a sub-par shot that missed. The Cavs had done it. They’d come from 3-1 down to end the city of Cleveland’s 52-year trophy curse with their first championship.

Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League final win v AC Milan

The 25th May 2005 is a date that will live forever in the minds of every Liverpool fan, but will also be remembered by many football fans across the world.

Liverpool entered the 2004/05 Champions League in the third qualifying round making it into Group A with ease. A tricky group meant they needed to come from behind to beat Olympiakos 3-1 at Anfield on matchday six to qualify for the knockout stages.

Rafael Benitez’s side beat Bayer Leverkusen 6-2 on aggregate in the last 16, before beating Juventus 2-1 in the quarter-finals. Luis Garcia’s infamous ‘ghost-goal’ was enough to see off Chelsea in the semi-finals to set up a tie with AC Milan in the Istanbul showpiece.

Only one minute into the final, Liverpool found themselves behind, after AC Milan captain Paolo Maldini wrote himself into the Champions League history books, becoming the oldest scorer in the history of the competition.

Liverpool almost replied immediately through John Arne Riise and Sami Hyypiä, but Brazilian goalkeeper Dida kept them at bay. Things got worse for Liverpool as surprise inclusion Harry Kewell had to come off with a groin injury, with Vladimír Šmicer coming on in his place.

Cafu Dida Champions League Final

Milan increased the pressure, with an Andriy Shevchenko goal ruled out for offside, before Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek saved another effort from the Ukrainian frontman. Six minutes before halftime, Argentinian striker Hernán Crespo made it 2-0, counter-attacking after a Liverpool penalty claim was turned down.

And just one minute before the break, things got even worse, with Crespo chipping Dudek to seemingly put the game to bed at 3-0.

Benitez brought on Dietmar Hamann for Steve Finnan at half-time, a move which switched their formation to 3-5-2. It was a move that had a profound effect on the game and just nine minutes in to the second-half, Liverpool reduced the deficit through captain Steven Gerrard.

In a crazy six-minute spell, Liverpool went from 3-0 down, to being all square. Two minutes after Gerrard had revived some hope, Smicer breathed more life back into their fight with a second, before Xabi Alonso made it all square on 60 minutes, scoring from the rebound after missing a penalty.

Both sides had chances to take the lead, with Djimi Traoré clearing off the line from a Shevchenko shot, before Gerrard blasted an effort over the crossbar.

Pre-empting extra time, Crespo and Clarence Seedorf made way for AC Milan, with Serginho and Jon Dahl Tomasson coming on, while Milan Baroš was replaced by Djibril Cissé for Liverpool.

Jerzy Dudek Andriy Shevchenko

Both sides went close during extra time, with Dudek making a sublime double save from Shevchenko with only three minutes left, but it would go all the way to penalties.

Milan and Liverpool had both won their last European Cups via penalty shoot-out, and it was the second successive Champions League final to be decided on penalties too.

Serginho shot over the crossbar with Milan’s first, while Hamann coolly slotted home despite playing with a broken toe. Dudek, who adopted wobbly knees as a distraction technique, saved from Pirlo before Cissé made it 2-0 to the Reds.

Tomasson would score Milan’s third, before Cissé’s penalty was saved by Dida. Kaka subsequently levelled the scored temporarily, before Smicer scored to put the pressure on Shevchenko.

The Ukranian blasted his penalty down the middle, with Dudek diving to his right. But the Polish keeper got a strong left hand to the shot to make the save. Liverpool had managed the impossible.  Coming from 3-0 down, to win 3-2 on penalties.

Cast your vote

There are our final two contenders in the first round of the Greatest Comeback in the history of sport. Which one will get your vote? Let us know in our Twitter poll.

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All odds and markets are correct as of date of publication.