Points are used to track scores in basketball. And points can be scored via field goals, three-point baskets, and free throws. The team with the most points at the end of the game is declared the winner. If both teams are tied after regulation play, the teams play to five-minute overtime periods until such time when one team outscores the other with no time left to play.
There were times in the history of the NBA ( including the ABA ) when games were low-scoring. Teams would use the strategy of wasting time once they had taken a sizeable lead. These low-scoring games led to low attendance so the NBA introduced the 24-second shot clock to make the game more exciting. The three-point shot was also added to improve scoring and soon, we were witnesses to some of the highest-scoring games in professional basketball.
Let’s take a look at the highest-scoring games in the history of the NBA. For this article, we included ABA games since the ABA was absorbed during its merger with the NBA. Check these out:
Pistons at Nuggets 12/13/83: 370 Points
The highest-scoring game in NBA history happened in 1983 when the Detroit Pistons defeated the Denver Nuggets 186-184 or total combined points of 370 in a game that went to three overtime periods. What makes this game incredible is the fact that both teams combined to hit ONLY TWO three-point baskets. However, a total of 117 free throws were shot on that night, and a total of four players scored at least 40 points. Detroit’s 186 points are the highest ever by an NBA team in a single game while Denver’s 184 ranks second only to the Pistons. Kiki Vandeweghe scored a career-high 51 points in this game while Isiah Thomas and Alex English each scored 57 points.
Nets at Conquistadors 2/14/75: 342 Points
It was Valentine’s Day of 1975 when Julius Erving and his New York Nets combined for 342 points with the San Diego Conquistadors. The ABA was a high-scoring league but this track meet scored more points than what was expected. The Nets were coming off a four-day rest and maybe that’s why they had their stroke going for them. Julius Erving scored a career-high 63 points in 66 minutes while going 25-46 from the field and 13-19 from the foul line. Dr. J also added 23 rebounds and 8 assists for the defending champions who lost 166-176 in quadruple overtime to San Diego.
Bucks at Spurs 3/6/82: 337 Points
If you take out the game above which happened under the ABA banner, this 1982 game is the second-highest scoring game in the history of the NBA. This was a game between the Midwest division leading Spurs and the Central Division’s top team in the Bucks and it was the former highest-scoring game before the Pistons and Nuggets combined for 370 the following year. George Gervin scored 50 points to lead the Spurs to a 171-166 triple-overtime win over the Bucks. Mike Mitchell added 45 points for San Antonio while Brian Winters led the Bucks with 42 points.
Bulls at Hawks 3/1/19: 329 Points
The game between the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks on March 1, 2019, is the highest-scoring NBA game in the 21st century. Chicago overcame what was then Trae Young’s career-high 49 points to win 1681-161 after four overtimes periods. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with his personal-best of 47 points while Lauri Markkanen finished with 31 points and 17 rebounds for the Bulls. Young outshone the Bulls’ young stars though as he became only the fourth player in NBA history to put up at least 45 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds. During that game, Vince Carter also became the oldest player in NBA history to play at least 45 minutes in a single game.
Capitols at Chaparrals 3/13/70: 320 Points
This was formerly the highest-scoring game in ABA history before the Nets and Conquistadors put up 342 points five years later. The Dallas Chaparrals later became the San Antonio Gunslingers, and eventually, the Spurs. In 1970, the Chaps put up a 162-158 win over the Washington Capitols. Cincinnatus Powell led the Caps with 33 points while Glen Combs added 32. Manny Leaks had 26 points, John Beasley 25, and Charles Beasley 20 points for Dallas. On the other hand, Rick Barry led all scorers with 42 for Washington who won the game 162-158 in double overtime.
Warriors at Nuggets 11/2/90: 320 Points
This game is the highest-scoring NBA game that ended in regulation time. The Golden State Warriors were led by their TMC trio of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin while the Nuggets were known for their run-and-gun offense. The Warriors won the game 162-158 behind 38 points from Mullin, 32 from Hardaway, and 29 from Richmond. Meanwhile, the Nuggets were led by Orlando Woolridge who had 37 points before fouling out. Walter Davis also added 33 points for Denver. Neither team won a quarter by more than two points in this closely fought contest.
Spurs vs Nuggets 1/11/84: 318 Points
The Nuggets under Doug Moe were a high octane team and in 1982, they led the league in scoring at 126.5 points per game. Two months after losing to the Pistons in the highest-scoring game in NBA history, the Nuggets entered the record books again with a 163-155 win over the Antonio Spurs in a game that was then the highest scoring non-OT game in NBA history. Kiki Vandeweghe led the Nuggets with 50 points while Alex English added 25. George Gervin led the Spurs with 38 points while John Lucas had 23. Only four combined players failed to score in double digits in this game.
Suns at Nets 12/7/06: 318 Points
This game was a duel between two of the greatest points guards in the history of the NBA in Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. It was a crazy game that ended with a score of 161-157 in favor of the Suns. Steve Nash led Phoenix with 42 points, 13 assists, and six rebounds while Jason Kidd had 38 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists to pace the Mavericks. Phoenix was a high scoring team and the Mavs decided to run with them to produce this track meet. A total of 13 players scored in double digits. Four players scored at least 30 points while four players also had double-doubles.
Rockets at Wizards 10/30/19: 317 Points
Whenever you have James Harden playing in a ball-game and Mike D’Antoni coaching his team, then it’s going to be a shootout. Harden is one of the best scorers we have ever seen and in this particular game, he dropped 59 points on the Wizards. Russell Westbrook also had an excellent game for Houston as he wound up with a triple-double. Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 46 points while rookie big man Rui Hachimura had a big outing with 23 points. This game was held simultaneously with Game 7 of the 2019 MLB World Series. The road team won this game but more importantly, the road team also won the World Series.
Knicks vs Warriors 3/2/62: 316 Points
The Philadelphia Warriors defeated the New York Knicks 169-147 in the 10th highest-scoring game in the history of the NBA ( including the ABA). But this game was more significant because of Wilt Chamberlain’s unforgettable 100-point game. Richie Guerin led the Knicks with 39 points while Willie Naulls added 33 and Cleveland Buckner 31. But the Knicks were no match for Chamberlain who single-handedly willed his team to a victory in this game.