Lights Out: The Highest-Scoring Performances in NBA History
NBA

Lights Out: The Highest-Scoring Performances in NBA History

The 2021 NBA playoffs are here.

No more load management — this is when things get real. And for the first time in a while, it seems like multiple teams in each conference have legitimate shots of winning it all. In fact, the team with the worse seed captured Game 1 in four of the eight first-round series, while the sixth-seeded Miami Heat took the third-seeded Milwaukee Bucks to overtime before falling on a last-second jumper.

We’re expecting a lot more tight games and a lot more scoring as the postseason continues. In celebration of the playoffs’ arrival, we’re reflecting on some of the highest-scoring NBA games of all time, first in the postseason and then in the regular season.

Highest Scoring NBA Games
Highest Scoring NBA Games
/

Playoffs

Highest-Scoring Game:

Portland Trail Blazers 153, Phoenix Suns 151 (2 OT); May 11, 1992

Powered by a 33-point performance from Clyde Drexler, the Portland Trail Blazers knocked off the Phoenix Suns in a double-overtime thriller. Portland’s Terry Porter and Danny Ainge also went for 31 and 25, respectively. Kevin Johnson’s 35 points and 14 assists were not enough for the Suns, who fell behind 3-1 in the Western Conference semifinals before getting knocked out in Game 5.

Highest-Scoring Game of the 21st Century:

Dallas Mavericks 141, Sacramento Kings 137 (2 OT); May 10, 2003

Thirty-one points from Steve Nash. Twenty-five points and 20 rebounds from Dirk. Forty points from… Nick Van Exel? Yep, you heard that right. Van Exel was the leading scorer on that star-studded night. Peja Stojakovic’s 39-point performance wasn’t enough for the Kings, who went on to lose the series in seven games. 

Highest Scoring Playoff Games of the 21st Century

Highest-Scoring Game in Regulation (Tie):

San Antonio Spurs 152, Denver Nuggets 133; April 26, 1983

George Gervin powered an offensive explosion from the Spurs, pouring in 42 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a winning performance. Three of his teammates went for at least 20 points while Dan Issel dropped 28 for the Nuggets.  

AND

Boston Celtics 157, New York Knicks 128; April 28, 1990

Seven years later, the Celtics put up 157 points in a 29-point victory over the Knicks. Kevin McHale had 31 points and Larry Bird finished with 15 points and 16 assists. Patrick Ewing’s 28 points weren’t enough for the Knicks, but New York would storm back and win the next three games to take the series. 

Highest-Scoring Game of the 21st Century in Regulation:

Toronto Raptors 150, Brooklyn Nets 122; Aug. 23, 2020

Toronto stomped the Nets to complete a first-round sweep in the NBA’s Orlando bubble last season. Pascal Siakam had 20 points and Norman Powell finished with 29. The depleted Nets never really stood a chance in the series, though Caris LeVert did put up an impressive 35 points in the loss.

Highest-Scoring Individual Performance: 

Michael Jordan, 63 points; April 20, 1986

“God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

That was how perennial All-Star Larry Bird described MJ’s performance after he set the single-game playoff scoring record. If you didn’t know the 23-year-old Jordan before this masterpiece on the grandest stage against the Boston Celtics, you certainly knew him after. Although the Bulls lost Game 2 of this first-round series 135-131 in double overtime and were years away from winning their first title, Jordan’s gutsy play put them on the map. Elgin Baylor is the only other player to score more than 60 in a playoff game.

Regular Season

Highest-Scoring Game:

Detroit Pistons 186, Denver Nuggets 184 (3 OT); Dec. 13, 1983

The box score reads like an absolute doozy; four players dropped more than 40 points and Kiki VanDeWeghe led the way with 51 for the Denver Nuggets, albeit in a losing effort in triple overtime. Isaiah Thomas played 52 minutes and scored 47 points for the Detroit Pistons. The kicker? There were only four 3s attempted in the entire game (both teams were 1-2 from behind the arc).

Highest-Scoring Game of the 21st Century:

Chicago Bulls 168, Atlanta Hawks 161 (4 OT); March 1, 2019

Here’s some of the 21st-century sharpshooting that NBA fans have come to love. The Bulls shot 21 of 48 from 3 while the Hawks were 22 for 60 from beyond the arc. Zach LaVine scored 47 for the Bulls while teammates Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. added 31 apiece in the win. Trae Young did most of the heavy lifting for Atlanta with 49 points. The second-highest scorer for the Hawks was Alex Len, who had 24. 

Highest Scoring Games 21st Century

Highest-Scoring Game in Regulation: 

Golden State Warriors 162, Denver Nuggets 158; Nov. 2, 1990

This bout was quite the way to start Denver and Golden State’s 1990-91 season. Chris Mullin scored 38 points and Tim Hardaway had 32 to go along with 18 assists in the Warriors’ W. Orlando Woolridge had a team-high 37 for Denver. It was a close-fought battle the entire way with both teams scoring between 36-44 points in each quarter. Only six 3s were made in the entire game.

Highest-Scoring Game of the 21st Century in Regulation:

Houston Rockets 159, Washington Wizards 158; Oct. 30, 2019

You knew we had to get to these Houston Rockets eventually. Of Houston’s 103 field goal attempts on the night, 54 came from 3. James Harden finished with 59 points and Russell Westbrook put up a triple-double in the victory. Bradley Beal had 46 points for the Washington Wizards, while four scored in double figures off the bench.

Highest-Scoring Individual Performance: 

Wilt Chamberlain, 100 points; March 2, 1962

The NBA record that will likely never be broken: Wilt’s 100-point game. Chamberlain shot 36 of 63 from the floor, 28 of 32 from the free-throw line and nabbed 25 rebounds in the Philadelphia Warriors’ 169-147 victory over the New York Knicks. Four of his teammates scored in double figures while three players dropped at least 30 points for the Knicks. We’ll remember this one forever.


Animations by Paul Connors. Design by Matt Sisneros.