Most everyone loves a high scoring basketball game and the NBA has plenty of them. It is always exciting to watch a couple of high powered offenses go up against each other, pushing the ball up the floor for incredible dunks and lots of 3-pointers. These are the types of plays that fans pay to see.

The average NBA scores have been trending upward over the past few years due to the style of play and the many talented scorers that are now in the league. Although score totals have been increasing, it may be surprising to know that we have to go all the way back to 1983 to find the highest-scoring NBA game ever.

The highest-scoring NBA game ever was on December 13, 1983. In this game, the Detroit Pistons defeated the Denver Nuggets with a score of 186-184 in a triple-overtime. The total points between both teams was 370.

Scoring Trends

As mentioned above, score totals in the NBA have been on the rise over the past couple of years. Scoring in the NBA, as well as other basketball leagues, tends to be cyclical. It mostly depends on the type of offenses being run and on the skill sets of the players who are playing.

Scoring trends can also be dependant on the rules. While in modern basketball, large rule changes are very infrequent, they can make a difference. Before the 24-second shot clock was added in 1954, scoring was low because teams would take their time and stall by just dribbling the ball around and keeping it from the other team. The shot clock forced teams to take more shots resulting in higher scores and more exciting games.

The addition of the 3-point line in 1980 may have had some effect on the high scoring trend of the ’80s but it was more likely the style of offenses employed that created most of it. The “run and gun” style of offense used by coaches such as Doug Moe, Paul Westhead, and Don Nelson created high-scoring games with little defense and few set plays run in the half-court.

In fact, when the Pistons defeated the Nuggets in the highest-scoring game (186-184), the Pistons made only one 3-pointer (by Isiah Thomas) the entire game. At this time, teams were still not using the 3-point shot the way it is used in today’s game.

Let’s take a closer look at the Pistons-Nuggets 186-184 game to see what factors created the highest-scoring NBA game.

Highest Scoring NBA Game: Detroit Pistons 186 – Denver Nuggets 184

In a game totaling 370 points, the Detroit Pistons finally edged out the Denver Nuggets after 3 overtimes. The game was played on December 13, 1983, in Denver, Colorado at the old McNichols Arena.

Coach Doug Moe had implemented his run and gun style offense in Denver in order to wear teams out at home games in the mile high-altitude of Denver, Colorado. This strategy worked well against most teams but that night the Nuggets ran into a Pistons team that was able to keep up with them.

While pieces of the team were there, the Pistons of 1983 were not quite yet the defensive “Bad Boys” that they became in the late 1980s. They knew going into the game that slowing the Nuggets down was not an option, they would have to run with them in order to stay in the game.

The Pistons had stars like Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Kelly Tripucka and John Long. For the game Thomas scored 47 points, Long scored 41 and Tripucka scored 35. The stars of the Nuggets were KiKi Vandeweghe, Alex English, and Dan Issel. Vandeweghe led the nuggets with 51 points, English had 47 and Issel had 28 points.

Not only was this the highest-scoring game, but it is the only game to ever be played in which 4 players scored 40+ points. This game also set many other records such as the most points scored by a single team (186, Detroit), most points scored by a losing team (184, Denver), most field goals by two teams (142), most field goals by 1 team (74, Detroit), and the most assists by two teams (93).

Nothing too much out of the ordinary happened in regulation. At halftime, the score was 74-74 which seems high, but Denver had been putting up similar numbers all year. They had already scored 140+ points in 14 different games the previous season. With the Pistons, down by 3 at the end of regulation, Bill Laimbeer made a free throw, then intentionally missed the second free throw and Isaiah Thomas tipped in the rebound to tie the game at 145 as time ran out.

In the first overtime, the Nuggets were able to push their lead to 5 points, but down the stretch, the Pistons went on a 7-2 run to tie the game again at the end of the first overtime. During the first overtime, Isaiah Thomas hit the only 3-point shot made by the Detroit Pistons the entire game.

Kelly Tripucka was the star of the second overtime. He scored all 12 of the Piston’s points, but the Nuggets were able to hang with him and the 2nd overtime ended tied at 171 apiece. In the 3rd overtime, the Pistons took control of the game but Denver worked their way back and made a 3-pointer at the buzzer but their comeback was 2 points short as the Pistons won 186-184.

Many records were broken that night as 12 players scored in double figures. Many of the players felt like they couldn’t miss a shot and that it was like a scrimmage or exhibition game where they didn’t really care much about defense. In all, it was an incredible night at McNichols Arena, a one of a kind show that may never be seen again.

Additional Resources

Most of the facts from this article come from NBA.com. There you can find out more information and even see the official scorecards from the game.

You may not want to watch the entire game because it is so long, but you can see the highlights of the game here. Take a look, it is pretty amazing.

There are a lot of other high scoring games spread throughout the decades of basketball. Take a look at this list to see the top scoring games in history. Here you will find lists for both the regular season and the playoffs.

Final Words

High scoring games in the NBA are pretty common these days as the current style of play and the skills of the players create so many scoring opportunities. These games are always fun to watch. The game between the Denver Nuggets and the Detroit Pistons back in 1983 must have been really exciting to watch especially if you were lucky enough to see it in person.

The game is a classic that will always be remembered in NBA history. While scoring trends are up in the NBA, this game poses the question, will we ever see the 370 point record from the highest-scoring NBA game be broken?

Do you think we will ever see an NBA game with a higher point total? Will a team ever score more than 186 points in a game? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave your comments.