Tip-Off Timer: Vandeweghe's 51 Not Enough as Denver Drops Epic Game
On Dec. 13, 1983, the San Diego Chicken showed up at Denver's McNichols Arena, a gimmick needed to try to get some fans to out for what looked to be a mundane Tuesday game between the Nuggets and Detroit Pistons.
That didn't work as a mere 9,655 fans showed up.
Of course, now there might be a few hundred thousand claiming to have been on hand that night.
Denver forward Kiki Vandeweghe scored a career-high 51 points to lead all scorers. But even that wasn't enough as his Nuggets lost 186-184 to Detroit in three overtimes in the highest-scoring game in NBA history.
"We were the two highest-scoring teams in the league at the time, but the result was sort of ridiculous," said Vandeweghe, now New Jersey's general manager.
Yes, the San Diego Chicken was upstaged that night. In the epic, 3 hour, 11-minute marathon, there were 33 ties and 21 lead changes. Six NBA scoring records were set and two others were tied.
It was a night in which Nuggets forward Alex English put up 47 points, and didn't even lead his team in scoring. The Pistons got 47 points from guard Isiah Thomas and 41 from guard John Long.
"It's like Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak," said Kelly Tripucka, a forward who scored 35 points that night for Detroit as the Pistons set an NBA record for most points in a game by one team. "I don't know if (the records for points in a game) ever will be broken. It's one of the greatest games in NBA history. For something like that to happen today, you'd probably have to play 10 overtimes."
Here's a summary of NBA records shattered that night, all of which still stand:
-- Most points, one team: Detroit, 186.
-- Most points, both teams: 370 (Detroit 186, Denver 184).
-- Most field goals, one team: Detroit, 74.
-- Most field goals, both teams: 142 (Detroit 74, Denver 68).
-- Most assists, both teams: 93 (Detroit 47, Denver 46).
-- Most players with 40 or more points, both teams: Four (Denver: Kiki Vandeweghe, 51; Alex English, 47; Detroit: Isiah Thomas, 47; John Long, 41).
The following records were tied, and remain so:
-- Most players with 40 or more points, one team: Two (Denver: Vandeweghe, 51; English, 47; and Detroit: Thomas, 47; and Long, 41).
-- Most personal fouls, both teams (since 1954-55): 87 (Detroit 44, Denver 43).
Want to hear the craziest part? Both teams shot just 1-of-2 from three-point range, with none made in regulation.
"We didn't use it at all back then," Vandeweghe said of the three-pointer, then in its fourth NBA season.
Nuggets forward Richard Anderson did bank in a three-pointer with two seconds left in the third overtime to cut the deficit to 186-184. But the Pistons were able to run out the clock and prevent a fourth overtime, which could have resulted in both teams reaching the 200-point mark.
To this day, one key play stands out in Detroit's dramatic win. With 6 seconds left in regulation and the Nuggets clinging to a 145-143 lead, Detroit forward Bill Laimbeer missed the second of two free-throw attempts intentionally, and Thomas got the rebound and made a putback with 4 seconds left to tie the score 145-145 and force overtime.
The teams were tied 159-159 after the first overtime and 171-171 after the second overtime, when Tripucka scored all 12 of his team's points. The Pistons finally broke away in the third overtime, helped by the fact they had just one player who ended up fouling out to four for Denver.
"For awhile, we thought the game was never going to end," Tripucka said. "When it finally ended, I looked up at the scoreboard and couldn't believe how many points had been scored."
It might have been Vandeweghe's career-high scoring night, but it left a bad taste in his mouth because the Nuggets lost. For years, Vandeweghe never watched a replay of the game until a fan once sent him a tape of it.
Vandeweghe turned it off after five minutes.