The 10 Greatest Individual Game Performances in the NBA - HowTheyPlay - Sports
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The 10 Greatest Individual Game Performances in the NBA

I've always been interested in writing about the history of the NBA.

The 2016–2017 NBA season saw some amazing statistical accomplishments.

  • Russell Westbrook broke the seasonal triple-double record that stood for 55 years.
  • James Harden came in second for the all-time career record in points made for a season.
  • There were five 50-point triple-doubles in the season, all by Harden and Westbrook. There were previously only 6 ever recorded.
  • Chris Paul had a game where he made 20 points, 20 assists, and had zero turnovers.
  • Devin Booker scored 70 points in a game against the Celtics.
  • A new NBA record of 10 different players scoring 50 or more points in a game this season.

The statistical boom of this season got me thinking about the great performances in the history of the sport. This list won't include the more well-known performances like Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, Kobe Bryant's 81-point game, or Jordan's 63-point game in the Boston Garden. Instead, I will look at some of the more obscure great games from legends, hall of famers, and some unexpected players.

Tony Delk

Tony Delk

1. Tony Delk's 53-Point Game

Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Tony Delk. One of these things is not like the other. However, on January 2, 2001, Delk had the best night of his career. He was never a prolific scorer; his career average was 9.1 per game.

The 2000-2001 season actually saw the best seasonal average in his career at 12.3 points per game. On that January night in Sacramento, Delk scored an amazing 53 points. That wasn't the only impressive thing about the game. He shot 20 for 27 from the field and made 13 of 15 from the free-throw line. Another impressive stat from the game was that he did it all without making a three-pointer.

Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain

2. Wilt Chamberlain's Perfect Triple-Double

The list could easily be composed entirely of Wilt Chamberlain games. We all know of the 100-point game in 1962 and the game where he got 55 rebounds. He had a double triple-double in 1968 where he tallied 25 points, 22 rebounds, and 21 assists. He also had eight 40-point and 40-rebound games.

If blocks had been counted back then, he would have had numerous double triple-double games. He may have made a quadruple-double record. The game I'm using for this list, however, is one from February 24, 1967. He went 18 for 18 from the field for 42 points to go along with 30 rebounds and 10 assists. This led to a 149-118 win for the 76ers over the Baltimore Bullets.

Scott Skiles

Scott Skiles

3. Scott Skiles' 30 Assists

When you think of great passers in NBA history, names like Magic Johnson, John Stockton, or Jason Kidd come to mind. However, most people don't know that the record for most assists in a game belongs to Scott Skiles.

On December 30, 1990, he made history for the Orlando Magic in a 155-116 victory over the Denver Nuggets. He dished out 30 assists while adding six rebounds and two steals. He also scored 22 points.

Rick Barry

Rick Barry

4. Rick Barry's 64-Point Game

Rick Barry is one of the most underrated players in NBA history. He has a career average of 25 points per game, is a 12-time All-Star, and was the 1975 Finals MVP. He had 70 games where he scored 40 or more points.

His greatest performance arguably occurred on March 26, 1974. In a game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Barry scored 64 points as he went 30 for 45 from the field. He chipped in 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Warriors to win at 143-120. 64 points was even more impressive in that period since there was no three-point line. He only went to the free-throw line five times in that game. The only other player to ever have 30 or more successful field goals in a game was Wilt Chamberlain.

Dana Barros

Dana Barros

5. Dana Barros' 50-Point Game

With a career scoring average of 10.5 per game, Barros was not someone you'd expect to drop 50 points in a game. He was a great three-point shooter with a career shooting percentage of 41.1% from behind the line.

On March 14, 1995, while playing for the 76ers, Barros was on fire. He scored 50 points on the Houston Rockets, who would win the championship that season. He shot at 21 for 26 from the field, including 6 for 8 from the three-point range. Unlike Delk, Barros has had other high-scoring games. He once scored 41 points which included 7 three-pointers as well as 39 points which included 9 three-pointers.

John Stockton

John Stockton

6. John Stockton's 1988 Playoff Performance

On May 17, 1988, there was a playoff game between two of the greatest point guards of all-time. On one side you had Magic Johnson as the leader of the defending champions, the Showtime Lakers. Opposing him was the eventual all-time leader in assists and steals, John Stockton.

Magic was already a multiple-time champion and MVP while Stockton was in his fourth season and a year away from making his first All-Star team. Magic and his Lakers got the better of Stockton's Jazz in this game but Stockton won the individual matchup. He scored 23 points, dished out 24 assists, and added 5 steals.

Willie Burton

Willie Burton

7. Willie Burton's 53-Point Game

Three months before Barros scored 50 in a game, his teammate Wille Burton scored 53 on December 13, 1994. Burton was hot from the three-point line against the Miami Heat as he shot at 5 for 8; he went 12 for 19 from the field in total. However, nearly half of his points came from the free-throw line where he went 24 for 28. Keep in mind that his career scoring average was 10.3 points per game.

Larry Bird

Larry Bird

8. Larry Bird's Near Quadruple-Double in 3 Quarters

Quadruple-doubles are hard to come by in the NBA. There have only been four recorded in history. However, blocks and steals have only been tracked since 1973 so there have been some that have gone unrecorded.

On February 18, 1985, Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird came one steal shy of making a quadruple-double against the Utah Jazz. Being one number shy is not the impressive part of this game, even though that feat has only been done 8 times. It was the fact that he did it without playing in the fourth quarter. On that night in Salt Lake City, Bird made 30 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, and nine steals. This gave the Celtics the win with a final score of 110-94.

Bird was no stranger to high-scoring games; he has had a 60-point game and multiple 50-point games in his career. He also came close to a quadruple-double the following season by getting 21 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, and eight steals against the New Jersey Nets.

Cedric Ceballos

Cedric Ceballos

9. Cedric Ceballos' 40 Points in 15 Shots

There have been a few games with points in the 40s with 15 or fewer shots. Dirk Nowitzki had 48 in 15 shots. He went 24 for 24 from the free-throw line, the most ever without a miss. Terry Porter had 41 in 14 shots. Both of these performances occurred during the playoffs. Alonzo Mournings had 43 points when he went 13 for 14 from the field in the regular season.

I chose Ceballos for this entry because in most of his high-scoring games, he either took over 20 shots or made shots from the three-point line. On March 9, 1993, while playing for the Suns, he did neither in a 40-point game. Against the Sacramento Kings, Ceballos went 14 for 15 from the field, as well as going 12 for 12 from the free-throw line. The Suns won with a score of 128-108.

Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon

10. Hakeem Olajuwon's Five-By-Five Triple-Double

Hakeem Olajuwon had 38 points, 17 rebounds, 12 blocks, six assists, and seven steals in a game against the Seattle SuperSonics. Not only was it a five-by-five, but it was probably the closest anyone has come to getting a quintuple-double. Olajuwon has had some of the most impressive games in NBA history. He has one of the only four recorded quadruple-doubles. He should have two due to an uncredited assist in a game in which he had 29 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists, five steals, and 11 blocks.

© 2017 Lawrence Wilson


Mikey Karlovsky on July 09, 2019:

Hi Lawrence,

What about Brandon Jennings 50 point game or Devin Bookers 70 points?

Ryan on May 25, 2019:

Nurkic Jan 1 2019 against the Kings

Mike on October 22, 2018:

You gotta add the Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic for his perfect triple double aaaand he has the fastest triple double in NBA history.

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