Pistons History: Rocky Mountain High

This is the first post in a new feature on Piston Powered. These posts will detail an interesting moment in Pistons history. Sometimes they will be relevant to current events. But often, as is the case here, they won’t be.

Before the Pistons and Nuggets squared off on Dec. 13, 1983, Detroit coach Chuck Daly told Denver coach Doug Moe “First one to 140 wins,” according to the Denver Post.

Daly had good reason to believe the game would be a shootout. Both teams ranked near the bottom of the league in defensive stats. But Daly would couldn’t have guess how high-scoring the game would be.


That was the banner headline in the Denver Post the day after the Pistons’ won, in triple overtime, what’s still the NBA’s highest-scoring game.

The Pistons and Nuggets set six records in the game.

  • Most points by a team: Detroit’s 186
  • Most combined points : 370 – Detroit’s 186 and Denver’s 184
  • Most field goals by a team: Detroit’s 74
  • Most field goals combined: 142 – Detroit’s 74 and Denver’s 68
  • Most assists: 93 – Detroit’s 47 and Denver’s 46
  • Most players with 40 points: four – Detroit’s Isiah Thomas (47) and John Long (41) and Denver’s Kiki  Vandeweghe (51) and Alex English (47)

And the teams combined to take just four 3-pointers (two made). Maybe Larry Brown was right.

The day after the game, a Denver Post columnist named Woodrow Paige Jr. joked the NBA should fine Moe again for a lack of defense. A few weeks earlier, Moe told his Nuggets not to guard the Trail Blazers in the last minute of a clear loss. Portland made five layups in that final minute en route to 156 points, and the league fined Moe. More Paige humor:

“The Nuggets have been known to give away hamburger coupons in the past if the club scored a certain number of points. As a result of Tuesday night’s score, they should give away entire cows.”

The Boston Globe ran an editorial saying the Celtics, who previously held the scoring record, still had a rightful claim to the record. Boston scored 173 against the Minneapolis Lakers in regulation in 1959.

“The men in green did it the right way – in the time allotted for a regular league game – and until another team reaches 174 points in 48 minutes, the record is theirs alone, no ifs, ands, buts or asterisks.”

The Celtics didn’t hold onto the record, but the Pistons and Nuggets took some punishment from the three-hour and 11-minute game. Detroit forward Kelly Tripucka told The Miami Herald:

“Both teams deserve a week off.”

And their schedules nearly provided it. The Pistons had three days off before losing to Boston, and Denver lost to Portland three days later.

The Pistons finished the season 49-33 and lost in the first round to the Knicks. Denver (38-44) didn’t make the playoffs.

Images of the official box scores are available via pistons.com.


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