There is an old saying that goes, “Records are made to be broken.” Throughout NBA history there have been many records that have come and gone in the past 75 years of its existence, and some records have held on much longer than others. In 2022-23, LeBron James is set to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record, a record that was once thought to be untouchable and unbreakable. While longevity records continue to fall, there have been many single-game records that have held on for decades.
The records that we have deemed to be the 10 most unbreakable today are ones that have occurred in a single game. These records could have been set by a player who achieved something individually or by a team that either performed well or performed poorly enough in one game to be etched in the record books forever. These amazing feats of basketball greatness will be ranked based on how likely it is that the record will fall anytime soon. Regardless of their difficulty, these records should be revered for some time to come.
Here are the 10 most unbreakable single-game records in NBA history.
10. Most Three-Pointers By A Player In A Single Game
Record: Klay Thompson - 14 Three-Pointers Made
Prior to the influx of 3-point shooting during the 2010s, the NBA record for most 3-pointers in a game belonged to both Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall, with 12. In 2016, Stephen Curry broke the record during his unanimous MVP season when he went off for 13 3-pointers in a game vs. the Pelicans. In 2018, Curry’s teammate Klay Thompson took the record from him when they shared the floor vs. the Chicago Bulls. Thompson went for 52 points in the game and shot 14-24 from three-point range in a resounding win over Chicago.
Of all the single-game records that we have chosen today, this one is the likeliest to fall in the near future. Since 2020. 14 NBA players have gone for at least 11 3-pointers made in a game which includes Curry 5 separate times. Curry himself can take the record back from Thompson before he wraps up his career. I can think of almost 10 players off the top of my head who could contend with this record in our lifetime, including guys like Trae Young, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, and many others.
9. Most Total Points Scored Between Two Teams In A Single Game
Record: Detroit Pistons vs. Denver Nuggets, 1983 - 370 Total Points
On a December evening in 1983, the Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets met in what seemed like a normal regular season game at the start. As the game progressed, it became clearer that by the end of it, this would be no normal game. For the Pistons, Isiah Thomas led the way with 47 points and 17 assists in the triple-overtime thriller as the Pistons took the game 186-184. John Long added 41 points for Detroit, and Kelly Tripucka scored 38 as well. For the Nuggets, Kiki Vandeweghe had 51 points, and Alex English added 47 of his own.
As the years have gone on in the NBA, the league average for team points scored in a game keeps increasing. With the increasing role of the 3-point shot, there is a belief that a 4-overtime thriller that sees this record broken is not far away. I can see Stephen Curry and Trae Young locked in an epic battle that pushes the brink of the NBA’s first 200-point scoring team. The league average is 112.8 in 2022-23, which is the highest it has been since the late 60s. This record could fall within the next 10 years if it keeps trending in this direction.
8. Most Points In A Quarter By A Player In A Single Game
Record: Klay Thompson - 37 Points
For years, George Gervin’s record of 33 points in a quarter stood as the NBA’s gold standard. In 2015, the record would fall when Klay Thompson erupted for 37 points in a quarter during the 3rd period of a matchup with the Sacramento Kings. Thompson would finish the game with 52 points after going 11-15 from 3-point range and 16-25 overall. The closest anyone came to touching Thompson’s record was Kevin Love in 2016 with 34 points with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This record in 2022-23 is completely obtainable by the young talent across the NBA. Everywhere you turn is a guy who can get hot at any moment and have the best 12 minutes of his career. It should also be noted that it took 30 years for anyone to even tie Gervin’s record and 37 years for someone to eclipse it. This places the difficulty a bit lower than the other scoring record on this list, as even if it does seem breakable, it is not something that has happened too often.
7. Most Blocks By A Player In A Single Game
Record: Elmore Smith - 17 Blocks
The NBA record for most blocks in a game was set by Elmore Smith in 1973. Smith rejected 17 shots while playing for the Lakers going up against the Portland Trail Blazers. Smith helped the Lakers to a 13-point victory with an incredible triple-double of 12 points, 16 rebounds, and of course, 17 blocks. Smith also had 14 blocks in a game twice during the same season. Since Smith set the record in 1973, only 3 players have swatted 15 shots, while Mark Eaton swatted 14 twice as well.
The last player to even come close to Smith’s single-game blocks record was Hassan Whiteside in 2015 with the Miami Heat. Whiteside blocked 12 shots in that contest, and no player has had 12 in a game since. This record seems to be less breakable than the other scoring records, given the dip in blocked shots over the past few years. If there were any players to challenge this record, the only ones to truly have a shot would be Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
6. Most Free Throws Made By A Player In A Single Game
Record: Adrian Dantley, Wilt Chamberlain - 28 Free Throws Made
The record for most successful trips to the foul line is held by 2 individuals in NBA history. The first of those 2 is Wilt Chamberlain, who drained 28 free throws in a game against the Knicks in 1962. For NBA historians, this was Wilt’s legendary 100-point game that also remains an NBA record to this day. The other player to drain 28 free throws in a game was Adrian Dantley in 1984 when he was with the Jazz. Dantley went 28-29 from the foul line and finished the game with 46 points in a Jazz win.
Since 2010, Only 5 players have approached this record with 24 or more foul shots made. Despite the increasingly softer fouls called by the referees and players manipulating defenses, the record of 28 free throws has remained intact. Team altogether are only attempting 24 free throws per game in 2022-23 on average, leaving little room for one player to get to the line that often. However, the outlier does exist, and any superstar on any given night can explode for a 50-point game with frequent trips to the charity stripe.
5. Most Minutes Played By A Player In A Single Game
Record: Dale Ellis - 69 Minutes Played
The record that wraps up the first half of our list is Dale Ellis’s 69 minutes in a game. In a regular season game during the 1989 season between the SuperSonics and Bucks, Dale Ellis registered 69 minutes played for Seattle in a loss. The Game had gone to 5 overtime periods, and the Bucks won by a close 1-point margin, 155-154. In Ellis’ 69 minutes, he scored 53 points and went 18-39 from the field. Ellis’ teammate Xavier McDaniel played 68 minutes that same game and is still the holder of the 2nd-place spot in the record books.
This record stands as one that has a case to be Top 3 on this list. Players in 2022-23 can barely be bothered to play the 2nd half of a back-to-back, let alone 69 minutes in one night. Coaches are much wearier in their usage of their rotations and star players than they were in the 80s and beyond. Only 2 players since 2000 have registered 60 minutes played in a game. Vince Carter played 63 minutes in a game for the Raptors in 2001, while Jalen Rose played 61 minutes for the Pacers during the same season.
4. Most Assists By A Player In A Single Game
Record: Scott Skiles - 30 Assists
A little over 32 years ago, a 10-year NBA veteran unexpectedly threw his name into the NBA record books. Five days after Christmas in 1990, Scott Skiles became the single-game record holder for most assists in a game with 30 dimes to his teammates. Skiles had broken the record held by Kevin Porter, that stood for 12 years at 29 assists. In the 155-116 Orlando victory, Skiles recorded 22 points and 30 assists in 44 minutes of play.
There have only been 2 players since 2010 with 24 or more assists in a game to challenge the record. Russell Westbrook has recorded 24 assists twice in his career, once with the Thunder in 2019 and once with the Wizards in 2021. Rajon Rondo had 25 assists for the Pelicans back in 2017 and 24 in a game for the Celtics in 2010. As far as assists are concerned, the single-game record seems to be safe for the foreseeable future as we move into the next generation of stars in the NBA.
3. Most Rebounds By A Player In A Single Game
Record: Wilt Chamberlain - 55 Rebounds
Only 2 players in NBA history have ever recorded 50 or more rebounds in a game. In 1960, Bill Russell pulled down 51 rebounds in a game for the Boston Celtics against the Syracuse Nationals. Nine months later, Wilt Chamberlain snatched the record from Russell with a 55-rebound performance that has yet to be topped in NBA history. As a matter of fact, Russell and Chamberlain hold 19 out of the Top 20 single-game rebounding performances in NBA history.
Breaking this record will be virtually impossible to break. No player since the 60s has even recorded 40 rebounds in a game, let alone 50, and the way that things go in today’s NBA, it will not be broken anytime soon. Guards grab as many rebounds as big men in today’s game with the urgency to retreat on defense and the longer trajectory off the rim due to longer shots being taken. I wouldn’t expect this record to be broken at any time in the near future.
2. Most Points By A Player In A Single Game
Record: Wilt Chamberlain - 100 Points
The record for the most points in a game is the most legendary record in all of basketball. With no film from that day and just eyewitness accounts and a stat sheet on record, fans have taken to many conspiracy theories to combat the truth of Wilt’s performance. The fact is that Wilt did, in fact, score 100 points in a 1962 game against the New York Knicks, and that can not be disputed. In the contest, Wilt recorded 100 points and 25 rebounds on 36-63 shooting from the floor.
Only 2 players have even cracked 65 points in a single game since 2000. Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a game, the second most by any player, during the 2006 season with the Lakers against the Raptors. He also scored 65 in a game the following season to put himself once again in the Top 15. In 2017, Devin Booker recorded 70 points in a game against the Boston Celtics as well. The fact that, even in such a high-scoring era as today, not one player has seriously challenged Chamberlain’s record tells me all I need to know. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game will withstand the test of time, in my personal opinion.
1. Lowest Combined Score Between Two Teams In A Single Game
Record: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Fort Wayne Pistons, 1950 - 37 Points
We have arrived at what we have determined as the most unbreakable single-game NBA record in history. During a 1950 contest between the Minneapolis Lakers and Fort Wayne Pistons, the 2 teams combined for just 37 points in 4 quarters of action. The Pistons defeated the Lakers 19-18 in the game in which George Mikan had 15 of 18 points for Minneapolis. The Pistons hatched a plan to beat the Lakers that day by holding onto the ball as long as they possibly could. Two years later, the 24-second shot clock was introduced.
The lowest score of the shot clock era was 119 combined points in a 1955 matchup between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Hawks. With the way the game is played today at a fast pace and scoring-oriented, there is no way this record could ever be broken, barring a catastrophic event of some sort. If any two teams combined for less than 37 points in the modern NBA, I would think there would be 20 players and a few coaches looking for jobs the very next day.