One of the reasons that basketball can be such a thrilling sport is the high-scoring element. A single game can feature multiple highlights, from pinpoint long-range shooting to clever layups and devastating dunks. In the modern NBA, the shift to a three-point-dominated game has increased scoring rates across the board, leading to even more point-scoring action.
The focus on scoring rates has even penetrated the world of betting. NBA bettors trying to get the best odds for betting on NBA games often consider the total points markets as an understanding of the factors that lead to higher or lower-scoring games can give them an edge.
The NBA has, however, always had the ability to produce high-scoring games, and some of the highest-scoring games in its history came before the modern era.
Highest Score in the Finals
Regular season games can often produce high-scoring encounters, but games in the Finals are usually different. There is more at stake, the audience is huge, and the defense is tighter. Everything is more contested, and that hasn’t changed despite the recent three-point trend.
In fact, the highest scoring Finals game occurred back in 1967 on April 14th. The Philadelphia 76ers were taking on the San Francisco Warriors, and the 76ers eventually won 141-135. There was overtime in the game, although only one period. Six players each scored more than 20 points, including Rick Barry, who finished with 37.
The difference in pressure and competition in Finals games is underlined by the fact that the highest-scoring regular season games easily exceeded the total of 276 points scored in this game.
Highest Score in Regular Season Without Overtime
The possibility of multiple overtime periods means that scores can get out of control, but it is worth looking at the highest-scoring game that did not feature over time.
This came in the 1990-91 season in Denver, when the Nuggets were playing their first home game against the now Golden State Warriors at McNichols Arena. Paul Westhead was the new Nuggets coach, and he adopted an ultra-offensive strategy. His ‘run-and-gun’ style used ten players in a complicated rotation, and the results were spectacular.
Orlando Woolridge scored 37 points for Denver, and teammate Walter Davis ended with 33 points. For Golden State, Chris Mullin scored 39, while between them, Mullin, Mitch Richmond, and Tim Hardaway scored 99 points. In total, 12 players managed double figures, and the game finished 162-158 for the Warriors.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, this style of play was not as successful as it was exciting. Although the team averaged 119.9 points per game that season, it also gave up 130.8 points per game, which is an NBA record. When the Nuggets met similarly attacking teams, the points piled up.
Second Highest Scoring Game in the NBA
If overtime is considered, then the point totals become even bigger. For instance, one game between the San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks in 1982 produced a final score of 171-166 for the Bucks.
This game went to three periods of overtime, and there were some huge personal scores. George Gervin finished with 50, and both Brian Winters and Mike Mitchell got more than 40 points each. There were also multiple scores of 20+ among the rest of the players. Incredibly, the record set by this game would last for less than a year until it was broken by Denver and Detroit.
The Highest-Scoring NBA Game Ever
Point scoring reached its peak in 1983 when the Detroit Pistons took on the Denver Nuggets. The previous year had included the Milwaukee Bucks scoring over 170 against the Spurs, but that astonishing total was surpassed by both the Nuggets and the Pistons.
The game finished 186-184 to the Pistons after three periods of overtime, and the total final score of 370 has not been approached by any NBA matchup since then.
Not surprisingly, the game also produced the highest and second-highest team scores in the history of the NBA. In total, four players in that game passed the 40-point mark, and in a game where defense appeared to go out of the window, Kiki VanDeWeghe scored a huge 51 points.
Despite losing that game, it was Denver, rather than Detroit, who ultimately made it through to the playoffs, beating Phoenix in the first round before losing to the Spurs in the Conference semifinals. Alex English, who scored 47 in that game, finished as the top points scorer in the NBA and earned a spot on the All-NBA Second Team.