Mar 25, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Jodie Meeks (20) gets his shot blocked by New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith (8) during second half action at Staples Center. Left is New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler (6) and right is New York Knicks forward Amar

Stat Central: If You Thought The 50-Point Quarter Was Rare, You’re Right

Mar 25, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kent Bazemore (6) hangs in the air after getting fouled by New York Knicks center Cole Aldrich (45) during second half action at Staples Center. right is New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (5). Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers made a little bit of history Tuesday night when they rung up 51 points in the third quarter of their 127-96 demolition of the New York Knicks at Staples Center.

It was just the 37th time in NBA history a team has dropped a half a hundred in the span of one quarter, the first time since the Indiana Pacers dumped 54 in the third quarter on the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 9, 2010, in a 144-113 win.

So why the significance? Because those are the only two 50-point quarters in the NBA in more than 20 years.

The count of 50-point quarters by decade tells the story:

  • 1950s: 1
  • 1960s: 10
  • 1970s: 6
  • 1980s: 18
  • 1990s: 0
  • 2000s: 0
  • 2010s: 2

It wasn’t exactly common in the 1980s, but it was a heckuva lot more frequent then that it has been at any other point in the game’s history.

Of course, the 1980s were the halcyon days for fast-paced and efficient offense in the NBA—the 1960s featured lots of fast pace, not so much with the efficiency.

Here’s the complete list of 50-point quarters:

Rk Date Team Opponent Qtr PS PA +/- Final
1 Tue, Mar 25, 2014 Los Angeles Lakers New York Knicks 3rd 51 31 +20 W 127-96
2 Tue, Nov 9, 2010 Indiana Pacers Denver Nuggets 3rd 54 27 +27 W 144-113
3 Tue, Nov 12, 1991 Milwaukee Bucks @ Cleveland Cavaliers 4th 53 37 +16 L 113-119
4 Thu, Jan 10, 1991 Houston Rockets @ Denver Nuggets 4th 50 43 +7 W 156-133
5 Sat, Nov 10, 1990 Phoenix Suns Denver Nuggets 1st 50 37 +13 W 173-143
6 Sat, Nov 10, 1990 Phoenix Suns Denver Nuggets 2nd 57 30 +27 W 173-143
7 Fri, Jan 5, 1990 Seattle SuperSonics Miami Heat 4th 50 27 +23 W 140-110
8 Thu, Nov 16, 1989 Milwaukee Bucks Orlando Magic 1st 50 28 +22 W 132-113
9 Tue, Mar 21, 1989 Golden State Warriors Portland Trail Blazers 4th 50 31 +19 W 151-127
10 Tue, Mar 7, 1989 Golden State Warriors Los Angeles Clippers 4th 50 23 +27 W 138-112
11 Sat, Mar 4, 1989 Golden State Warriors Sacramento Kings 3rd 57 26 +31 W 155-143
12 Tue, Jan 15, 1985 Dallas Mavericks @ Golden State Warriors 4th 51 28 +23 W 149-104
13 Sat, Nov 17, 1984 San Antonio Spurs @ Houston Rockets 2nd 50 38 +12 L 133-141
14 Sat, Apr 14, 1984 San Diego Clippers Utah Jazz 2nd 50 34 +16 W 146-128
15 Wed, Jan 11, 1984 San Antonio Spurs @ Denver Nuggets 4th 53 46 +7 L 155-163
16 Sat, Apr 10, 1982 Utah Jazz Denver Nuggets 1st 50 41 +9 W 151-136
17 Tue, Feb 9, 1982 San Diego Clippers Houston Rockets 4th 53 38 +15 L 121-129
18 Fri, Feb 5, 1982 Boston Celtics Denver Nuggets 1st 50 27 +23 W 145-144
19 Wed, Jan 6, 1982 Denver Nuggets San Diego Clippers 3rd 51 30 +21 W 136-114
20 Tue, Jan 22, 1980 Detroit Pistons @ Chicago Bulls 4th 50 42 +8 L 131-145
Rk Date Team Opponent Qtr PS PA +/- Final
21 Fri, Oct 20, 1972 Buffalo Braves @ Boston Celtics 4th 58 23 +35 L 118-126
22 Fri, Jan 7, 1972 Detroit Pistons Cincinnati Royals 4th 53 43 +10 W 151-132
23 Fri, Jan 29, 1971 Cincinnati Royals @ Baltimore Bullets 4th 50 32 +18 L 118-145
24 Wed, Feb 25, 1970 Boston Celtics San Diego Rockets 4th 54 27 +27 W 147-124
25 Fri, Feb 13, 1970 Seattle SuperSonics Baltimore Bullets 3rd 51 32 +19 W 141-138
26 Wed, Feb 11, 1970 Atlanta Hawks @ San Diego Rockets 3rd 54 26 +28 W 155-131
27 Tue, Dec 26, 1967 New York Knicks N Seattle SuperSonics 4th 53 34 +19 L 135-137
28 Wed, Dec 20, 1967 Philadelphia 76ers @ Seattle SuperSonics 4th 53 39 +14 W 160-122
29 Sat, Dec 18, 1965 Baltimore Bullets Detroit Pistons 2nd 52 25 +27 W 143-114
30 Sat, Dec 19, 1964 Cincinnati Royals @ New York Knicks 4th 50 21 +29 W 133-105
31 Fri, Feb 28, 1964 Cincinnati Royals N Philadelphia 76ers 3rd 51 39 +12 W 134-132
32 Sat, Mar 2, 1963 Syracuse Nationals Detroit Pistons 3rd 51 27 +24 W 152-128
33 Fri, Feb 8, 1963 Syracuse Nationals @ Detroit Pistons 3rd 50 29 +21 W 162-135
34 Sun, Jan 13, 1963 Syracuse Nationals Detroit Pistons 4th 51 35 +16 W 148-114
35 Sun, Dec 16, 1962 Syracuse Nationals @ San Francisco Warriors 1st 50 28 +22 W 144-137
36 Sat, Dec 8, 1962 St. Louis Hawks San Francisco Warriors 3rd 50 29 +21 W 145-129
37 Fri, Feb 27, 1959 Boston Celtics Minneapolis Lakers 4th 52 44 +8 W 173-139
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/26/2014.

Perhaps the most amazing feat of 50-point quarter legerdemain was performed by the 1988-89 Golden State Warriors, who turned the trick three times in 17 days in March of that season.

The 1988-89 Warriors under Don Nelson were a frenetic crew, with Chris Mullin averaging 26.5 points a game and Mitch Richmond going for 22 points a night (alas, this was before the Run TMC days; Tim Hardaway wouldn’t be drafted until the following season).

This Warriors team averaged 116.6 points per game (fourth in the league), but ranked only 14th in offensive rating at 107.4 points per 100 possessions because of their second-fastest-in-the-NBA pace of 107.3 possessions per game. Shot clock? We don’ need no steenking shot clock!

The only team that played at a faster pace than the Warriors was Doug Moe’s run-and-gun Nuggets, but again, it was a very different era for the NBA. The average pace that season was 100.6 possessions per game, with the average offensive rating at 107.8 points per 100 possessions.

Compare that to this season, where the average pace is 94.1 possessions per game and no team averages 100—the fastest-paced team in the NBA this season is the Philadelphia 76ers at 99.4 possessions per game (and we know how well that’s worked out for them).

More telling is the slowest pace in 1988-89. That would be the Detroit Pistons at 95.5 possessions a game, a figure exceeded by only nine teams this season.

Of course, that was the same Detroit Pistons team that won the first of its back-to-back titles in 1988-89 with its grind-it-out, defensive-oriented style, a style that would permeate the entire league by the middle of the next decade and a style that still holds sway over much of the NBA today.

But perhaps the best way to show how the league has changed over the years is to compare the league averages for field-goal percentage, offensive rating and pace in five-year intervals, beginning with 1958-59, the first time a team recorded a 50-point quarter.

Year Pace Ortg FG%
1958-59 118.9 90.2 39.5
1963-64 116.8 94.6 43.3
1968-69 116.9 95.5 44.1
1973-74 107.8 97.7 45.9
1978-79 105.8 103.8 48.5
1983-84 101.4 107.6 49.2
1988-89 100.6 107.8 47.7
1993-94 95.1 106.3 46.6
1998-99* 88.9 102.2 43.7
2003-04 90.1 102.9 43.9
2008-09 91.7 108.3 45.9
2013-14 94.1 106.3 45.3
*-1998-99 season shortened to 50 games because of a lockout

The other interesting factoid from the list—only once in NBA history have there been two 50-point quarters in the same game. On Nov. 10, 1990, the Phoenix Suns hung 50 on the Nuggets in the first quarter to open a 50-37 lead. Then they put up 57 more in the second period en route to a 107-67 halftime lead in a game they would win 173-143 … the night the Suns tied the record for most points in a regulation game, first set by the Celtics on Feb. 27, 1959, in a 173-139 win over the Minneapolis Lakers, the first time a team scored 50 points in a single quarter (the Celtics scored 52 in the fourth period).

But that Suns-Nuggets track meet only matched the second-highest scoring game in history in terms of total points scored with 316. The Cincinnati Royals and San Diego Rockets had 316 in a game on March 12, 1970, two shy of the record of 318 set by the Nuggets and Spurs on Jan. 11, 1984.

And the record for points in a quarter is 58, set by the Buffalo Braves against the Celtics on Oct. 20, 1972. Buffalo outscored Boston by 35 points in that fateful fourth quarter. Too bad the Braves were down by 43 at the start of it.

Tags: 50 Point Quarters Los Angeles Lakers Nba Stat Central New York Knicks

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