There’s nothing more exciting for basketball fans than a close game that goes down to the wire. If that happens in a Game 7, it’s a dream come true for most hoops junkies.
Then there’s the other kind of game. The exact opposite of a nail biter, a full-on blowout.
Whenever these things happen, many fans will leave the arena or switch to a different channel. The ones that remain usually do so for one of two reasons: Either they’re rooting for the team that’s in the lead or they’re just curious to see how big the final point differential will be.
Every NBA season has its fair share of these. They usually come in 15 to 25 point varieties. But every once in a while, we witness a blowout so insane that it goes down in sports history and the players on the losing team remember it forever.
Today, we’re taking a look at the top 5 biggest blowouts in NBA history, starting with the biggest of them all…
1. Cleveland Cavaliers beat Miami Heat 148-80
Margin of Victory: 68
Date: December 17, 1991
It doesn’t get any better (or worse) than this. As crazy as it may seem given where these two teams are today, the Cleveland Cavaliers are in the NBA record books for producing the largest margin of victory ever recorded, defeating the Miami Heat by an extraordinary 68 points.
The number of points the Cavs managed to put up in that game is crazy even by today’s standards. You can only imagine how crazy it was in an era with much fewer three-point shots being made.
It simply begs the question – How was this possible? The Heat must have been missing half of their roster with injuries, right?
Wrong! They just couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn and they were turning the ball over almost as often as they attempted to score.
Everything that could have gone wrong for them that night did. On the other hand, the Cavs had a once in a lifetime kind of night from the field where it appeared that they couldn’t miss at times.
You put those two things together, sprinkle a lot of difference in quality even without the abnormal shooting from both sides, and you get an absolute annihilation the likes of which will probably never again be seen on an NBA floor.
2. Indiana Pacers beat Portland Trail Blazers 124-59
Margin of Victory: 65
Date: February 29, 1998
Before I get started with this one, I just want to make sure you’re familiar with Reggie Miller’s legendary trash talking. If you’re not, do yourself a favor and find one of the countless Reggie Miller trash talking compilation on YouTube before you continue reading.
Now imagine how it would probably feel if Reggie’s team gave you a 65 point beatdown. Or you can ask someone from the 1998 Portland Trail Blazers since they have first-hand experience of just such a beatdown on February 29th.
Unlike the Heat and Cavaliers game, this blowout didn’t feature two sets of absolute statistical anomalies. The Pacers didn’t exactly play out of their mind, but the Blazers couldn’t buy a bucket or stop anyone that night. Sure, any team can have a bad night from the field, but the Blazers were actually one of the top defenses in the NBA that year, so allowing 124 points was probably the bigger surprise.
How bad were the Blazers from the floor, you ask? Well, the Pacers were up 59 points at halftime, while the Blazers finished ended the game with that number.
3. Los Angeles Lakers beat Golden State Warriors 162-99
Margin of Victory: 63
Date: March 19, 1972
Match 19th, 1972, an insane game in the fastest era the NBA has ever seen. The pace statistic, or average number of possessions per game, only became a thing in 1973, so we don’t know exactly how fast the games looked.
But the stats from 1973 onwards clearly indicate that the 70s were the fastest decade in NBA history.
Given the context, the Lakers scoring a whopping 162 points doesn’t seem that crazy. Even more so when you consider that the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers are widely regarded to be on of the greatest teams in the league’s history – led by the trio of Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and, of course, Wilt Chamberlain. (You know, the guy who once scored 100 points in a game (the NBA single-game scoring record) and who could put up 40 and 20 whenever he felt like it.)
Well, except for the fact that the Warriors were a playoff team with the 4th best defense in the League that season. And the fact that on this night, Wilt had arguably the worst game of his career, putting up just 10 in 25 minutes on the court.
The Lakers, who went on to win the title that year, gave everyone a preview of how the season would end on that night. When you have multiple bench players scoring double figures and don’t need to rely on your biggest superstar, very few games won’t go your way.
4. Syracuse Nationals beat New York Knicks 162-100
Margin of Victory: 62
Date: December 25, 1960
Who expected that the Knicks would find themselves on this list? Everyone? Okay, but who are the Nationals?
They were the predecessor of the Philadelphia 76ers. That move came in 1963 when the team was sold to a new set of owners who moved it to Philadelphia.
The 1960-61 Syracuse Nationals put together one of the highest-rated offenses the NBA has ever seen. That offense was firing on all cylinders with all but one of the Nationals’ players scoring double figures.
It was simply a matter of an all-time great team offense capturing lightning in a bottle for one game. There’s not much you can do when that happens, except hope that the end result isn’t a historical blowout. You can sometimes survive the onslaught, but that clearly wasn’t the case for the Knicks when the final score was 162 to 100.
5. Golden State Warriors beat Sacramento Kings 153-91
Margin of Victory: 62
Date: November 2, 1991
Yet another massive blowout that occurred in the ’90s, this game took place right at the start of the 1991-92 season. The game was practically wrapped up in the first quarter, with the Warriors opening a 48-18 lead. While the margin of victory is notable, this blowout is rarely remembered for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the Sacramento Kings were a particularly weak team on a 37 game road losing streak, who would go on to finish last in the Pacific Division that season. The Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, had been enjoying a lot of success in those years under coach Don Nelson. So unlike some of the other blowouts, this didn’t really come as a surprise.
Secondly, the Warriors failed to beat the record set by the Lakers (against them, no less) in 1972. Of course, with the Cavaliers going on to set the current all-time margin of victory record of 68 points the following month, the Sacramento Kings didn’t have to endure the embarrassment for very long.
Blowouts in NBA Playoff History
All the games that made the above list were played during the regular season, but there have been some crazy blowouts in the playoffs, too. These kind of blowouts come as an even bigger surprise, because you expect teams that make the playoffs to be more evenly matched.
In second place is the Los Angeles Lakers’ 56-point win over the Golden State Warriors in the third game of 1973 Western Conference Finals. This came just a year after the aforementioned 162-99 regular season game victory they had over the Warriors the year before.
But that wasn’t enough to match the previous playoff record of 58 points that was set in the 1956 by the Minneapolis Lakers, when they defeated the St. Louis Hawks 133-75. Interestingly, the Minneapolis Lakers went on to lose the series, which just goes to show how a blowout can come out of nowhere.
More recently, the 2009 Western conference playoffs saw Carmelo Anthony-led Denver Nuggets match the 58-point all time playoff margin of victory record when they beat the New Orleans Hornets 121-63.