On December 13, 1983 an NBA game took place in Denver, Colorado at the McNichols Arena in front of a crowd of less than 10,000. The game pitted the visiting Detroit Pistons against the Denver Nuggets. It did not appear that it would be unlike most NBA games during the 82 game regular season, most of which are played and then forgotten. Something spectacular was about to happen that night.
When the game started both teams were furiously running up and down the court scoring on just about every possession. Defense was taking a back seat to the explosive offense of both squads. The 1st quarter ended with the Pistons leading by a score of 38-34. The score going into halftime was all tied up at 74-74. The Nuggets would take the lead in the 3rd quarter by a score of 113-108. At this point in the game with only one quarter remaining in regulation both teams had scores resembling a complete game. This game was however far from finished.
The Pistons played hard and stayed in the game throughout the final quarter of regulation time. The Nuggets had a 145-142 lead with just seconds remaining in the game when the Pistons received an opportunity they would take advantage of. The Pistons Bill Laimbeer was fouled and was at the free throw line. Laimbeer made his first free throw and intentionally missed his second shot, when he did Isaiah Thomas tipped the ball in before the clock ran out and the game was tied at the end of regulation. The game was now going into overtime.
The first overtime came and went and everything was still tied but the score was now 159-159. At this point it seemed very possible that this game could end up being the highest scoring game ever. The combined score was 318, the record holder at the time was 337 from a game played just a season before on March 6th, 1982, between the San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks.
The record was broken in the 2nd overtime when each team scored 12 points apiece. The combined score was now 342 with each team having scored 171 points each. In the 3rd overtime the game was decided when the Pistons scored 15 points to the Nuggets 13 points. The final score was 186-184 with the Pistons being the winner in this historic game.
This is a record that has stood for over three decades and it does not appear it will be broken any time soon. The most recent high scoring game that came close was in November of 1990. Ironically that game was played between the Golden State Warriors and the Denver Nuggets, at the exact same Arena as the record holding game. The Nuggets lost that game 162-158 with the combined score of 320 points. We have never seen a game that close to the record since and we may never will.