When Sunday night’s historic game at Chesapeake Energy Arena finally was over, a safe assumption quickly was confirmed as fact: No team in NBA history had ever had a player score 50-plus, another player score 40-plus and a third player register a triple-double, all in the same game.
The Thunder’s communications staff was in perpetual contact with the Elias Sports Bureau, asking the last time such-and-such happened – if ever.
This much I knew. The first two parts of OKC’s three-headed achievement had been done before. Two players from the same team had scored 50-plus and 40-plus. It happened Dec. 13, 1983, and I was there as a 23-year-old NBA beat writer covering the Denver-Detroit game for the Colorado Springs Sun. Durant and Westbrook were five years away from being born, and Ibaka was six.
A crowd of just 9,655 was on hand at McNichols Sports Arena as Detroit beat Denver 186-184 in triple-overtime that night. Some fans actually left early, perhaps from exhaustion, or because their beer buzz had worn off when sales were cut off in the fourth quarter.
This game was vintage Doug Moe, the Nuggets coach who chose to beat teams by outscoring them, not defending them. The entire NBA was offensive-minded.
Denver led the league in scoring at 123.7 points per game that season. Detroit, even with “Bad Boys” members Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas on its roster, was third in scoring at 117.1 per.
Kiki Vandeweghe had 51 points and was 21 for 29 from the field that night. Teammate Alex English added 47 points (18-for 30 from the field), 12 rebounds and seven assists. Dan Issel had a ho-hum 28 points. For the Pistons, Thomas had 47 points and 17 assists, John Long had 41 points and shot 18 for 25 from the field. Kelly Tripuka had 35 points.
The score was tied at 74 at halftime, at 145 at the end of regulation, at 159 through the first OT and at 171 through the second OT. The teams combined for 113 rebounds, an NBA record 93 assists and shot 142 for 256 from the field (.566).
Though the Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka combination was truly impressive, the 1983 contest was mayhem up and down both rosters. It was a night that will never be matched.
A team having a 50-plus, 40-plus and triple-double on the same night also might never happen again, unless it’s done by the same Thunder trio.