The NBA has seen its fair share of high-scoring games, especially today with the high volume of three-pointers each team takes. You'd think the highest-scoring NBA game would've occurred in recent years, but that's not the case.
The highest combined scoring NBA game occurred back in the fast-paced 1980s. The date was December 13, 1983, and the game featured the Detroit Pistons and the Denver Nuggets.
By 1983, the Detroit Pistons were far away from being their championship “Bad Boys” selves, as their star guard, Isiah Thomas, was only in his third season. Their core from their championship days, like Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, were not in the league just yet.
The Pistons may not have been championship contenders in 1983, but they were a team that knew how to score the ball. Their opponents, the Denver Nuggets, were the highest scoring team during the 1983-84 season, averaging 123.7 points per game.
The Nuggets were led by their star power forward, Kiki VanDeWeghe, who finished third in scoring during the 1983-84 season, averaging 29.4 points per game. This game was supposed to be a game that just passed by on the schedule, as both teams were struggling. The Nuggets came into the game with an 11-11 record, and the Pistons were 10-12.
This game didn't just pass by on the schedule, though. The game played on December 13, 1983, would go down in history as the highest-scoring game the league has ever seen.
The Pistons And Nuggets Battle Into Triple Overtime
The Pistons entered Denver, ready to turn their season around as they were on a three-game losing streak. Denver was also on a three-game skid, and they were looking to get back to winning ways as they prepared for the Pistons.
The game would be a battle, as both teams traded blows. With six seconds remaining in the game, the Nuggets held onto a 145-143 lead. The Pistons center, Bill Laimbeer, went to the free-throw line to attempt two free throws.
Laimbeer would miss both free throws, but Thomas leaped into the paint and grabbed the rebound. He finished the play by making a layup, and just like that, the score was tied, 145-145.
Four seconds remained in the game, so the Nuggets had one last chance to win the game. Dan Issel fired up a wide-open jumper from the top of the key as time expired, but his shot missed. The game headed into overtime.
This wouldn't be the only overtime this game would see. In fact, the two teams would play in three overtimes as they continue their high-scoring output.
After the first two overtimes, the game was tied at 171-171. Both teams had tired players, but both teams didn't want to give up.
The third overtime would be another tight contest. Detroit outscored Denver 15-13 in the third overtime, as they held onto a 186-184 victory.
The Pistons' 186 points were the most points scored by a team in NBA history, and the combined 370 points by both teams is the most in NBA history.
For the winning Pistons, Isiah Thomas led their squad with 47 points and 17 assists. Before Joe Dumars, Thomas' backcourt running mate was John Long. In this game, Long added 41 points while Kelly Tripucka chipped in 35 points.
One interesting fact about Tripucka is in the second overtime, each team scored 12 points, and Tripucka scored all 12 for the Pistons.
Tripucka had some motivation in the second overtime, which was the fact he was hungry:
“The game lasted so long, we were wondering if we could find a place to eat after the game,” Tripucka said after the game. “We were wondering, ‘is there an all-night diner in Denver?’”
Kiki VanDeWeghe led the Nuggets as he was the top scorer in the game with 51 points. He shot an incredible 21-29 from the field.
VanDeWeghe's Hall of Fame teammate, Alex English, finished the game with 47 points and 12 rebounds. Dan Issel added 28 points, as 12 players in total scored in double figures.
“Everybody was just flowing,” English said in an interview with Eric Neel from ESPN.com. “It seemed like nobody could miss a shot.”
The combined score between the Pistons and the Nuggets, 370, is 37 points higher than the second highest scoring game, which occurred on March 6, 1982, when the San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks combined to score 37 points in the Spurs' 171-166 victory.
The craziest stat of all from the Pistons-Nuggets showdown in 1983 is the fact a total of two three-point shots were made. Each team went 1-2 from distance, making it a combined 2-4 from three, in a game where 370 points were scored.
Will two teams combine to score more than 370 today in the era of three-point dominance? We'll have to wait and see, but as of now, it hasn't happened, and no two teams have come close.