One condition of a proper basketball game: There must be a winner when the final buzzer blares. Otherwise it’s just a practice or a shoot-around, right? There is always a clear winner and clear loser — even in the tightest games. Of course, every once in a while, the scoreboard in an NBA tilt is a little lopsided.
During March 2014, for example, the Los Angeles Clippers ran all over their more-famous Staples Center cohabitants, the Los Angeles Lakers, 142-94. The 48-point loss, while taking the top spot as the worst in Lakers franchise history, barely scratches the surface of the biggest blowouts in the NBA history books. Backed by the invaluable data and search tools provided by Basketball-Reference, here are the nine biggest smackdowns in NBA history.
9. The Milwaukee Bucks dispatch the Sacramento Kings
Date: December 15, 1985
Final score: 140-82
Sacramento has suffered some wicked smackdowns in its history. This beatdown at the hands of Milwaukee is one of the worst, ranking as the second-greatest point deficit the team has ever suffered.
The ’85 Bucks, lead by Terry Cummings, Paul Pressey, and Sidney Moncrief, couldn’t miss. Well, except for Moncrief, who went 0-3 from the field (but salvaged it by going 6-6 from the line). As a team, the Bucks shot a blistering 66% from the floor. That’s two out of every three shots. The box score breaks it down this way: 36 points in the first quarter, 28 points in the second, a 42-point explosion in the third quarter, and a final 34 points before the buzzer. Boom: 140 points. And no one, excluding Cummings, shot the ball more than 15 times.
8. The Sacramento Kings trump the Dallas Mavericks
Date: December 29, 1992
Final score: 139-81
Luckily for the Kings, they appear on the other end of this list as well, dropping a 58-point bomb on the hapless Ross Perot Jr.-era Dallas Mavericks. Technically, this game is tied with the Bucks/Kings game as far as final score goes. However, this one gets the nod because the Mavs scored even fewer points in their quest toward futility.
The craziest thing about this game is that the Kings only took 12 more shots than Dallas. That’s four more shots a quarter — hardly the exorbitant difference you expect from a final score like that one. They also only shot 51% from the field as a squad. The real boost over Dallas came from Hall of Famer Mitch Richmond, who put up 22 points and shot 8-11 from the field. His career might have been paved with losing seasons but damn, Richmond was good at basketball.
7. The Golden State Warriors outrun the Indiana Pacers
Date: March 19, 1977
Final score: 150-91
Understatement: Rick Barry was really good at scoring points. So, of course it was Barry, with 28 points on 13 shots, who led the Dubs in a game that saw all but two players, reserve guards Phil Smith and Gus Williams, break double digits. Interestingly enough, this was years before the NBA adopted the three-point line.
Unfortunately, the box score doesn’t get much more specific than that. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be much footage of the ’77 Warriors explicitly. There is this video of Barry going off for 38 points in 1975. As the roster was almost the same as the ’77 squad, it’s well worth watching. It is extra worth your time because Barry shoots his free throws underhanded. He’s famous for it and all, but it still looks ridiculous. There’s one at the one-minute mark. And it goes in.
6. The Milwaukee Bucks strike again, defeating the Detroit Pistons
Date: December 26, 1978
Final score: 143-84
How much do you know about Ernie Grunfeld? You probably know him as the guy who drafted John Wall. Or, possibly, the guy who helped the Knicks be competitive as their GM from 1986–99. Or the guy who shifted over to the Milwaukee and then Washington, when James Dolan controversially kicked him to the curb in favor of Isiah Thomas.
You might not know that, during his playing days, Grunfeld was one of the Milwaukee Bucks responsible for this one-sided performance. Contributing 27 points, he was one of three Bucks to finish with 20-plus in that tilt.
Drafted 11th overall in the ’77 NBA Draft, Grunfeld stuck with Milwaukee for two years before joining the Knicks, where he reunited with his college teammate, Bernard King — a friendship that’s received significantly more press than this game. What if we told you that ESPN made a 30-for-30 about their friendship?
5. The Knicks lose big on Christmas to the Syracuse Nationals
Date: December 25, 1960
Final score: 162-100
Before becoming the 76ers and moving to Philly to fill the void left by the Warriors, the Syracuse Nationals visited the 1954 NBA Finals, ultimately losing to the Minneapolis Lakers. (Yes, NBA teams used to move around a lot.) The Nationals also joined in on what has become a league-wide pastime: beating up on the Knicks.
Finishing with a 62-point margin of victory, the Nat scored like maniacs that Christmas day, racking up a pair of 39-point quarters in the first half and finishing with back-to-back 42 pointers. The box score for the game is lacking. However, Hal Greer, Dolph Schayes, and Dave Gambee went to town; each finished with more than 20 points.
In celebration of the dearly departed Syracuse Nationals, here’s some footage of that finals battle against the Lakers, who had the legendary George Mikan on their roster. It’s in black and white — a classic.
4. Run T and C lead the Golden State Warriors over the Sacramento Kings
Date: November 2, 1991
Final score: 153-91
A day that will live in infamy. That morning, the Golden State Warriors‘ front office announced that Richmond, the middle member of the high-scoring, high-octane Run TMC Warriors squad (see video for Run TMC highlights), had been traded to the Sacramento Kings for No. 3 draft pick Billy Owens. According to Don Nelson, then coach and GM of the Warriors: “The decision to trade Mitch Richmond is the toughest I have ever made.”
With Richmond held out of the game that night, he was unable to help his new team avoid the 62-point rout. Chris Mullin, in particular, went off, hitting 15-22 from the field and leading his team to a 57% field goal percentage overall.
While this victory probably put some pep in the Warriors’ belief in their decision, trading Richmond ushered in a dark cloud that didn’t lift from over the Dubs for over a decade. Owens played for six different teams from 1992–2001, while Richmond was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.
3. Wilt and The Logo lead the Lakers over the Golden State Warriors
Date: March 19, 1972
Final score: 162-99
On their way to winning their first title since coming to Los Angeles from Minnesota, the Lakers put together the biggest win streak the NBA has ever seen. With new coach Bill Sharman, new captain Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West taking over the point guard spot as the primary ball handler, the ’72 Lakers were a force to be reckoned with.
The Lakers laid the smackdown on the Warriors, who had Nate Thurmond and not much else. LA scored more than 40 points in all but one quarter of play. Eight of the Lakers (including Wilt, West, Happy Hairston and the inspiration for Gordon Gekko, Pat Riley) finishing in double figures.
The 17,505 fans who made the journey out to see the Lakers defend their home court were certainly rewarded with a magnificent game. Unfortunately, the box scores of the time make it hard to describe much of anything else about the game, especially with the scarcity of footage from the halcyon days of the ’70s NBA.
2. Indiana Pacers put the Portland Trail Blazers solidly in the loss column
Date: February 2, 1998
Final score: 124-59
59 points? How does a smackdown like that happen? Because this is how the Blazer’s box score broke down by quarter: 14-15-14-16. That’s awful. Now, with a team featuring Damon Stoudamire, Rasheed Wallace, and Isaiah Rider, expectations weren’t terribly high. (‘Sheed aside, none of those dudes were amazing defenders.) But, 59 points?
Looking at the box score, it becomes a little more obvious. Portland couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, going 24-72. A quarter of those baskets were from Wallace, who went 6-10. Take him out, and you’re left with a truly wretched 14-62, 22% shooting from the floor. Gross.
The Pacers, meanwhile, did the opposite. Sporting a team with Mark Jackson, Chris Mullin, and Jalen Rose, they managed to go 49-77 from the field, a 63% clip that should rightly be associated with good shooting. Maybe the Blazers should’ve traded for one of the Pacers at halftime.
1. The Cleveland Cavaliers make history, defeating the Miami Heat
Date: December 17, 1991
Final score: 148-80
Through years of misery and bad sports karma, the Cavs secretly held on to the NBA’s biggest victory for over two decades. And, what’s better, given the recent history of the franchises, that they experienced this margin against the Miami Heat. Long before LeBron, the Cavaliers were led by Craig Ehlo, Winston Bennett, Brad Daugherty, and John “Hot Rod” Williams.
They held the Heat to a putrid 35% shooting percentage from the floor and managed to outscore Miami’s second half total (27 points) in every single quarter, going 34-39-33-42 to Miami’s 24-29-13-14. The Cavs shot 57% from the field.