It’s that time again. I’m feeling very nostalgic, so it’s Flashback Friday time. And on the docket this week is perhaps the greatest passing performance in NBA history. No QB in the NFL has ever slung the ball around like Scott Skiles did against the Denver Nuggets on December 30, 1990.
So often, I’ve referenced this game in conversation. But, I have never really delved into it, and looked at the circumstances surrounding it. So, it’s time. Let’s dig in!
Both Teams Were Horrible
At the time of Scott Skiles’s 30-assist game, the most in a game in NBA history, the Magic were 6-23. Their opponents, the Denver Nuggets, were 6-22. There were probably not many folks giving this game much attention.
In a time when the three-point shot was still relatively new, Orlando still found a way to totally dominate. They poured in 155 points, while shooting only seven threes and making four of them. Denver scored 116 en route to getting absolutely crushed. Michael Adams led the way for them with 26 points on 10-19 shooting, including 2-8 from 3PT.
On the other side, Jerry Reynolds scored 27 off the Magic bench to lead them. Terry Catledge scored 25. And the man of the hour, Scott Skiles, had 22 points on 7-13 shooting.
Scott Skiles Stat Line
All in all, Skiles performance was absolutely magnificent. There was no +/- in 1990, but the team won by 39 and he logged 44 minutes. Chances are it was probably pretty high. Skiles final line was 22 points, six rebounds, 30 assists and four turnovers. He had a 7.5 A/TO ratio in a game in which he handed it to the other team four times.
At the time, Skiles was the only player to ever record 30+ assists in a game. And to this day, it remains that way. Nobody has been able to get there, though some incredible passing displays have ensued. And it also makes him the owner of the only 20-point, 30-assists night in league history.
Imagine how Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf feels looking back at this game. Skiles was his assignment, and he could do nothing to contain him. Nobody cares that Mahmoud had 21 points and four assists in the game. Because, he shot 9-29 from the floor and allowed his man to have the greatest passing performance in league history.
Around the NBA on December 30, 1990
There were four other NBA games on the slate the night of Skiles legendary showing. Minnesota defeated Seattle 126-106 behind a game-high 26-point effort from Sam Mitchell. The Bucks (21-6) defeated Portland (27-4) 117-112 in a battle of heavyweights. Ricky Pierce had 31 points and six assists off the bench.
The 76ers fell to the Lakers 115-107 despite a 39-point effort from Charles Barkley. Magic Johnson had an impressive triple-double, finishing with 34-13-13. And the 7-21 Heat picked up win number eight against the Clippers, knocking them off 112-97. Sherman Douglas led all scorers with 25 points.
Skiles Season After the Performance
In 1989-90, Scott Skiles averaged eight points and five assists per game in a role that had him starting just under half the games. In 1990-91, he averaged 17 points and eight assists per game while making 40% of his threes.
He won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award for his incredible bounce-back campaign. He only played in two career playoff games, so that was by far his most successful NBA year.
The Magic would finish at 31-51, well outside of the playoff picture. The Nuggets wound up a lowly 20-62. But for one night, two teams who were both far below .500 played a game that would be relevant for the years to follow.
Skiles led a 6-23 Magic team to a win in which they scored 155 points. And 30 different times, his passes led to immediate baskets for teammates.