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Scorigami can apply to the NBA’s unique games

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Saturday night in Philadelphia, the NFL kicked off its latest Scorigami, as the Cowboys defeated the Eagles, 51-26, in a game that otherwise meant next to nothing as Dallas had already clinched the NFC East and the Birds had already locked up a wild-card spot.

It was the sixth time this season that the NFL recorded a Scorigami — that is, a scoreline that had never happened before. This year also brought us our first 38-11, 31-5, 45-30, 41-15, and 48-9. There have now been 1,072 unique scores in NFL history, and little-by-little, the chart of possible football scores continues to fill up.

Scorigami has been a niche interest online since Jon Bois unveiled the concept five years ago. Last month, it got a full NFL Films treatment, making the idea of the chase for the unique scores further into the mainstream.

Can see the NFL video here.

“That’s really special,” Bois says in explaining Scorigami to the NFL Films audience. “Because that’s something you can never hope to see in any other sport: soccer, baseball, basketball. You can, commonly, score one point, one run at a time.”

Certainly, this is an NFL phenomenon, one that’s interesting because of how many Scorigami possibilities remain available. Whether it’s 18-9, 32-11, 36-29, or whatever, there are a lot of ways to put up a score that professional football has never seen before. But that doesn’t mean that you can never hope to see it in basketball. Fact is, we’ve already seen it rather famously this season.

When the Memphis Grizzlies set the NBA record for largest margin of victory in December, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was an NBA Scorigami by necessity — nobody had won a game by 73 points before, so 152-79 was obviously a unique score. Just two weeks earlier, though, the Grizzlies were blown out themselves, 138-95 against the Minnesota Timberwolves — and also Scorigami.

Two weeks before that, the Grizzlies beat the Rockets, 136-102. That wasn’t a Scorigami, but only because that scoreline was first achieved in 2019 by the Bulls and Hawks.

There has been one other NBA Scorigami this season: Heat 137, Bucks 95 on October 21. So, in less than half the season, the NBA is halfway to posting as many unique scorelines as the NFL did during its campaign. Not bad for something dismissed as a non-possibility.

It’s true that most of the close basketball scores are off the board. At least, it’s true among the higher numbers. The lowest-scoring game in NBA history was Fort Wayne Pistons 19, Minneapolis Lakers 18, on November 22, 1950 — a pre-shot clock game in which 21 of the 37 total points came on free throws and the teams combined to shoot 8-for-31 from the field. The next-lowest scoring pro basketball game was Celtics 46, Pittsburgh Ironmen 44, on December 2, 1946. There are a lot of empty Scorigami chart spaces between 19-18 and 46-44.

Here’s a look at the chart I built.

Image for article titled Score one for basketball

At the other end of the spectrum, Pistons 186, Nuggets 184 in three overtimes on December 13, 1983 remains the NBA’s highest scoring game. Only three other games in NBA history have even had one team reach 170 points, and only 22 total games have had the scoreboard reach 160 for either side — most recently Bulls 168, Hawks 161 in four overtimes on March 1, 2019. Yes, the Bulls and Hawks had two of their matchups in 2019 as Scorigami.

To get an NBA Scorigami now, the game has to be either something approaching impossibly low scoring, an enormous blowout, or a wild scoring exhibition like Wizards 154, Pacers 141 last May 3. But like in the NFL, there’s something to celebrate in it: not only the uniqueness of an individual scoreline, but the way that it can tie into history — especially now as the NBA celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Last April 3, against all kinds of odds, there was a double Scorigami — Knicks 125, Pistons 81, and Trail Blazers 133, Thunder 85. Incredibly, that was just a day after Tampa got itself into NBA Scorigami history, hosting the pandemic-relocated Raptors’ 130-77 win over Golden State… on the anniversary of Billy Owens and Latrell Sprewell leading a 134-93 Warriors rout in Dallas.

That was the 1992-93 Mavericks’ 63rd loss, on their way to 71. But it’s not just awful teams that can get blown out so badly that they enter NBA Scorigami territory. There’s only been one time that an NBA game finished 122-89, and it was Game 1 of the 1992 Finals — a series that wound up going six — with Michael Jordan scoring 39 points with 11 assists, and Scottie Pippen finishing one rebound shy of a triple-double to lead the Bulls past the Trail Blazers.

We’ve seen buzzer beaters. We’ve seen amazing individual efforts. So much of what we see in basketball is stuff that we’ve seen before, and thus the assumption that while the NBA is where many things happen, Scorigami wouldn’t be one of them. But until last April 26, we had never seen a 146-143 game, and then the Spurs beat the Wizards by that score in overtime… and then on November 27, the Rockets beat the Hornets by that score in overtime.

We’re still waiting on 146-145, and 146-144, and 146-142, and many other scores — 123-85, 74-62, 141-139 among them. The beauty of the NFL’s Scorigami is building to it over the course of an afternoon, the weirdness required to reach a score that no two teams have put up in more than a century of games. The beauty of the NBA’s Scorigami is the reminder that in a league with more than a thousand games pe year, where the action is repetitive enough to let you believe you’ve seen it all, we absolutely have not seen it all. And that, even if it’s not about unique scoring combinations, is after all why we keep watching, whether it’s football, basketball, or any other sport.

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