Basketball fans, buckle up! We’re about to dive into the annals of hardwood history, exploring the most explosive, point-filled encounters that ever graced the NBA court. These aren’t just your average high-scoring affairs; these are the games that shattered records, defied expectations, and left fans reeling with disbelief and exhilaration. So, grab your popcorn and prepare to witness the ultimate offensive onslaughts in NBA history!
NBA games evolving into shootouts with both teams topping 120+ points have become common in recent years as offenses, pace and efficiency reach new heights.
In this blog, we’ll break down the highest scoring games ever – both by single teams and combined totals along with the top-scoring games by players. While league-wide scoring surges make modern “high scoring” contests seem almost mundane now, looking back at the eruption games of yesteryear provides awe-inspiring perspective on how different eras and play styles enabled some of the wildest, most unchecked scoring the sport has ever seen.
SINGLE TEAM RECORDS
1. Detroit Pistons – 186 points
The Pistons spectacularly demolished the poor Denver Nuggets 186-184 in triple overtime back in 1983. Led by guards Isiah Thomas (47 points, 17 assists) and John Long (41 points), the Pistons simply couldn’t miss all night in an unforgettable scoring outburst. This was the highest-scoring game ever as well with a total of 370 points. An NBA-record four players surpassed 40 points in this game, including Kiki Vandeweghe’s game-high 51 for the Nuggets.
2. Sacramento Kings and LA Clippers – 176 and 175 points
The Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers lit up the scoreboard in February 2019 with a combined 358 points (176-175 in double overtime). It was punctuated by several clutch shots from both teams and was one of the most entertaining games of the era. This was the second-highest overall scoring game in history with 351 points overall.
3. Phoenix Suns – 173 points
In 1992, the fast breaking Phoenix Suns led by Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson zoomed up and down the court relentlessly to torch the poor Clippers 173-143. The Suns took a staggering 107 shots from the field as they initiated a breakneck tempo still eye popping even by today’s pace and space standards.
4. Boston Celtics – 173 points
The Boston Celtics’ historic game in which they scored 173 points is a remarkable moment in the annals of NBA history. This scoring feat took place on November 22, 1959, during a game against the Minneapolis Lakers.
It highlighted the Celtics’ dominance during the late 1950s and early 1960s and their ability to execute at a high level on the offensive end.
5. San Antonio Spurs – 171 points
The San Antonio Spurs’ extraordinary scoring feat of putting up 171 points in a single NBA game is a remarkable and historic achievement. This remarkable performance took place on March 6, 1982, during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks, and it still stands as one of the highest-scoring games in NBA history.
The game was a true showcase of offensive prowess, with the Spurs executing with precision and efficiency. Led by stars like George Gervin, Mike Mitchell, and Artis Gilmore, the Spurs displayed an incredible shooting display that left both fans and basketball enthusiasts in awe.
COMBINED TEAM SCORING RECORDS
1. Pistons 186, Nuggets 184 (3OT) – 370 Total Points
As examined earlier, two perennial basement dwellers somehow exploded for the equivalent points of nearly 5 full games combined in this 1983 3OT thriller. Defense was apparently optional all night long as both lottery teams shot over 54% from the field. It culminated with Pistons point guard John Long just barely missing a full court last gasp shot at the overtime buzzer that would have impossibly sent this game to a 4th extra period!
2. Kings 176, Clippers 175 (2OT) – 351 Total Points
The Sacramento Kings and LA Clippers became the second pair to score over 350 points in their double-overtime thriller. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk combined for a total of 87 points for the Kings while Paul George and Kawhi Leonard combined for 70 points.
3. Spurs 171, Bucks 166 (3OT) – 337 Total Points
George Gervin’s game-high of 50 points was enough to tip over the San Antonio Spurs in an intense game agaisnt the Milwaukee Bucks on March 6, 1932. Mike Mitchell also had 45 for San Antonio, while Brian Winters led scoring for the Nuggets with 42 points.
4. Bulls 168, Hawks 161 – 329 Total Points
Zach LaVine, Otto Porter and Lauri Markannen combined for 109 points in the Chicago Bulls’ victory over the Hawks. Trae Young had a game-high 49 points for the losing team, but his second highest-scoring teammate in Alex Len only had 24 points.
5. Warriors 162, Nuggets 158 – 320 total points
The Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets put on a heck of a show for the first game that both teams played in the 1990-91 season. Chris Mullin scored 38 points to lead the Warriors while Mitch Richmond had 29. Orlando Woolridge had 37 points to lead the Nuggets and was backed up with 33 points from Walter Davis.
PLAYER SINGLE GAME RECORDS
Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-Point Game: A Legendary Feat
No discussion about scoring excellence in the NBA is complete without mentioning Wilt Chamberlain’s iconic 100-point game on March 2, 1962. Playing for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks, Chamberlain achieved what many deemed impossible – scoring 100 points in a single game. This remarkable feat remains unparalleled, a testament to the dominance of one of the greatest players in basketball history. Oh, and Chamberlain also solely owns the third, and fifth place in the all-time list with 78 points and 72 points. He also has twice matched the 73-point performance from David Thompson that we discuss soon.
Kobe Bryant’s Dominance: 81 points in a low-scoring era
Kobe Bryant completely dominated the Toronto Raptors on Jan 22, 2006, as he hit 28 of 46 shots along with 7 of 13 three-pointers and 18 of 20 free throws. This achievement was also impressive because it happened during one of the lowest scoring eras of NBA basketball.
In a fitting conclusion to an illustrious career, Kobe Bryant delivered a memorable farewell performance on April 13, 2016. In his last game as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant poured in a staggering 60 points against the Utah Jazz. The Black Mamba’s farewell showcased not only his scoring ability but also his ability to captivate fans and leave an indelible mark on the league.
David Thompson’s 73-Point Explosion: A Scoring Showcase
David Thompson’s 73-point outburst on April 9, 1978, is a testament to the explosive scoring potential of NBA legends. Playing for the Denver Nuggets against the Detroit Pistons, Thompson’s scoring spree highlighted an era where players could capture the imagination of fans with their scoring prowess. This game remains a benchmark for individual excellence in the history of the league.
Devin Booker and Joel Embiid’s 70-Point Outbursts: An Unforgettable Performance
In more recent history, Devin Booker etched his name into the annals of NBA scoring with a mesmerizing 70-point performance on March 24, 2017. The Phoenix Suns’ guard displayed an array of offensive skills, showcasing his scoring ability against the Boston Celtics. Booker’s 70-point game served as a reminder of the individual brilliance that can electrify the league on any given night.
Joel Embiid matched this performance in January of 2024. He did this to welcome rookie phenom Victor Wembanyama to the league.
The Evolving Game:
The NBA has witnessed a significant shift in offensive styles over the years. The pace has become faster, three-pointers have become more prevalent, and teams are scoring at a record clip. This evolution is evident in the increasing number of high-scoring games in recent years.
The Future of Scoring:
With the continued emphasis on offensive freedom and the emergence of young scoring phenoms, we can expect even more epic scoring spectacles in the years to come. Who knows, we might even witness a challenger to the 1983 record!
So, there you have it, basketball aficionados! We’ve delved into the heart of high-scoring NBA history, reliving the moments of offensive brilliance and nail-biting finishes. Remember, these games are more than just statistics; they are testaments to the passion, athleticism, and drama that make basketball such a captivating sport.