On May 3rd, 2019, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trailblazers, the game went to four overtimes. Eventually, the Portland Trailblazers beat the Denver Nuggets, 140-137.
When the game ended, most NBA fans, myself included, went to make fun of how exhausted Nikola Jokic was. Considering how unathletic Jokic was, he was a pretty easy target for memes. However, if any of us NBA fans had to play 65 MINUTES of basketball, we'd be just as gassed out.
Besides Jokic, CJ McCollum also played 60+ MINUTES this game! In addition, Jamal Murray, Paul Milsap, Gary Harris, Damian Lillard, and Enes Kanter played 50 MINUTES this game!
This game was the longest NBA game in NBA Playoff history. The last time a playoff game went to four overtimes was in 1953 in Game 2 of the Eastern Division Semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Syracuse Nationals. Red Rocha, Paul Seymour, Bob Cousy, and Ed Macauley all played 60+ MINUTES this game!
What's insane is that the 2019 Denver Nuggets vs. Portland Trailblazers game was the longest NBA game in NBA Playoff history. It isn't the longest NBA game in NBA history. The third and second-longest NBA games in NBA history went up to FIVE OVERTIMES!
The longest NBA game in NBA history went to SIX OVERTIMES, and it was between two NBA teams that don't even exist anymore, the Indianapolis Olympians and the Rochester Royals.
In fact, out of the six teams that were a part of the top three longest NBA games, only the Milwaukee Bucks are still up and running. Also, unfortunately, two of these games were during the 1950s where they didn't record any stats besides points, field goals, free throws, fouls, and rebounds/assists (sometimes), but I'll find a way to make it enjoyable.
Without further delay, here are the Top 3 Longest NBA Games in NBA History.
Table of Contents:
Syracuse Nationals vs. Anderson Packers (5 OT)
The third longest NBA game was on November 24th, 1949 (on Thanksgiving), between the Syracuse Nationals and Anderson Packers. The Syracuse Nationals would end up winning the game, 125-123. It's surprising how the Packers were able to bring the Nationals to five overtimes since the Packers were nowhere near as good as the Nationals.
By November 24th, 1949, the Syracuse Nationals were 10-1 while the Anderson Packers were 6-2. By the end of the regular season, the Syracuse Nationals were 51-13 and had the best record in the league, while the Anderson Packers were 37-27 and had the eighth-best record in the league.
During the first half of the game, it seemed like the Anderson Packers were about to give the Syracuse Nationals their second loss of the season. They were up 41-30 by halftime. However, in the second half, the Nationals would catch up, making the score by the end of the fourth quarter, 76-76.
In the first, second, third, and fourth overtime, both teams scored:
OT: 7 Points
2OT: 4 Points
3OT: 8 Points
4 OT: 12 Points
Finally, in the fifth overtime, the Syracuse Nationals would outscore the Anderson Packers by two points, 18-16, and won the game.
The game started at 8:30 pm and was almost four hours long (228 Minutes)! Over 6,800 fans, on Thanksgiving Day, were watching one of the most groundbreaking games in NBA history. Four records were broken this Thanksgiving Night:
Longest NBA Game (228 Minutes)
Most Points Scored (248 Points)
Most Points Scored by a Team (125 Points)
Most Points Scored by a Visiting Team (123 Points)
Most Fouls (122 Fouls)
There were probably more records broken, but these were the ones I could find.
Although 125-123 doesn't sound like a lot of points in FIVE OVERTIMES, the average number of points by a team back in the 1949-50 NBA season was only 80. This was 43-45 points above the average PPG.
The game went on for so long that the referee would allow disqualified players (i.e., fouled out) to continue playing. However, if they were to commit another foul, the opponent would be given possession of the ball.
This game went on for so long was because both teams either decided not to shoot the ball or were just EXTREMELY inefficient. It's probably the latter since the Syracuse Nationals had a 35.4 FG% in the regular season while the Anderson Packers had a 31.1 FG%. Then again, the average FG% in the 1949-50 NBA season was 34.0 FG%.
The best and only player to score more than twenty points this game was Johnny Macknowski. In the regular season, he averaged 7.4 points, while in this game, he scored 21 points. Not the most impressive achievement since this game was almost four hours long...
The most disappointing player was Al Cervi. In the regular season, he averaged 10.2 points and was a part of the All-NBA second team, but he only scored three points in this game.
To add to all that, not a single player made more than eight field goals this game. The only two players with more than (or equal to) seven field goals were:
Bill Closs: 7 FG
Johnny Macknowski: 7 FG
Remember, this game was almost four hours long. To put this into perspective, throughout Jayson Tatum's career thus far, he averaged 7.0 FG in 32.7 minutes per game.
Finally, Paul Seymour somehow had 16 free throw attempts this game. In the 2020-2021 NBA season, the entire Chicago Bulls team averaged 17.5 free throw attempts...
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Seattle Supersonics (5 OT)
Out of the three longest NBA games in NBA history, this game is the most recent. This means I'll be able to look at all the stats!
The second-longest NBA game in NBA history was on November 9th, 1989, between the Seattle Supersonics and Milwaukee Bucks. The Milwaukee Bucks would beat the Seattle Supersonics by just ONE point, 155-154. This game going as long as it did was not as surprising since both teams were pretty mediocre.
By the end of the regular season, the Milwaukee Bucks were 44-38 while the Seattle Supersonics were 41-41. While the Bucks had an average offensive rating (107.3) and defensive rating (108.1), the Supersonics had a fantastic offensive rating (110.9) and awful defensive rating (109.8).
It seemed like the game could go either way before the five overtimes. The Seattle Supersonics won the second and fourth quarters while the Milwaukee Bucks won the first and third quarters. By the end of the fourth quarter, both teams were tied 103-103.
What's funny is that Shawn Kemp, a rookie this season, did not play this game. Of the 82 regular-season games, THIS was the only game Kemp didn't play. It's like he went to the future and found out that this would be the second-longest NBA game in NBA history, so he sat out.
Three players played more than sixty minutes this game:
Dale Ellis: 69 Minutes
Xavier McDaniel: 68 Minutes
Jay Humphries: 62 Minutes
Dale Ellis and Xavier McDaniel are first and second in longest minutes played by a player in a single game.
Besides Ellis, McDaniel, and Humphries, three other players played more than fifty minutes this game:
Alvin Robertson: 59 Minutes
Derrick McKey: 53 Minutes
Nate McMillan: 51 Minutes
The most disappointing players in this game were Jay Humphries and Nate McMillan. Humphries had a decent stat-line but shot horribly. In addition, he played 62 MINUTES! He should have done much more:
11 Points, 8 Rebounds, 10 Assists, 2 Steals
4/15 FG, 3/5 FT
The same thing applies to Nate McMillan. Although he had an excellent stat-line and played well defensively, in 51 MINUTES, McMillan only attempted THREE field-goal attempts:
8 Points, 6 Rebounds, 10 Assists, 2 Steals, and 4 Blocks
1/3 FG, 6/8 FT
The most impressive players were Dale Ellis and Ricky Pierce. Ellis' performance was outstanding due to the number of minutes he played and points he scored, while Pierce's performance was exceptional due to how efficient he was:
53 Points, 7 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 1 Steal, and 1 Block
18/39 FG, 3/7 3P, 14/17 FT
36 Points, 1 Rebound, 2 Assists
15/21 FG, 1/1 3P, 5/6 FT
In the fifth over time, with the score being tied 146-146, the Milwaukee Bucks scored nine consecutive points, putting them up 155-146. With only 34 seconds left on the clock, somehow, the Supersonics were able to score eight straight points within that time, but it wasn't enough. The Bucks would win, 155-154.
If it weren't for Tony Brown's clutch three-point shot in the fifth-overtime, the Bucks could have lost this game. Throughout his whole career, Brown shot 25.9% from the three-point line. In addition, in this specific season (1989-1990), the three-point shot that Brown hit was only 1/5 three-pointers he would make that season.
When the game was over, Xavier McDaniel didn't even eat. He went straight to his room and fell asleep. He said that he was tired for the next seven days. Pretty sure everyone felt the same way as the Seattle Supersonics canceled shootaround for the next game.
In the Seattle Supersonics following game, Dale Ellis still played 41 minutes. He was the only player in the Seattle Supersonics vs. Milwaukee Bucks game to play 40+ minutes the next game. What makes this worst is that Ellis had to play against Michael Jordan.
Indianapolis Olympians vs. Rochester Royals (6 OT)
Finally, the longest NBA game in NBA history was on January 6th, 1951, between the Indianapolis Olympians and Rochester Royals. After SIX overtimes, the Indianapolis Olympians would beat the Royals, 75-73.
Now, it's true that NBA games in the past were quite low-scoring. However, this was EXTREMELY low-scoring. The average PPG in the 1950-51 NBA season was 84.1 points. The Olympians and Royals had SIX MORE OVERTIMES to score/shoot, and somehow, both teams ended with a lower score than the average...
To be more specific:
Olympians Average PPG: 81.7 Points
Royals Average PPG: 84.6 Points
AGAIN, SIX OVERTIMES!
Is there a reason why in SIX overtimes, each team scored less than the league average? It's because both teams just sucked. Both teams looked worse than a JV high-school basketball team.
In addition to both teams just being awful, the main reason this game was so drawn out was the lack of a shot clock. There was no 24-second shot clock during the beginnings of the NBA, so technically, teams could hold the ball for an entire quarter and do nothing.
This is what both teams did during the six overtimes.
They would either hold the ball or pass the basketball around for the entirety of the overtime, and once it was near the end of overtime, a player would chuck a last-second shot. This was the game that led to the invention of the 24-second shot clock.
3,970 fans were at this game. I can't imagine any of them staying for all six overtimes.
What makes this more embarrassing for the Rochester Royals is that the Indianapolis Olympians were the fourth-worst team in the league. At the same time, the Royals were the third-best team in the league. If the Royals won, it would have been slightly less embarrassing, but they lost!
To be fair, the Royals had the last laugh because somehow, in the same season, they won the Championship...
Before the game went to six overtimes, it seemed like any other ordinary game. Everybody was playing fine, and by the end of the fourth quarter, the game was tied 65-65. It was once overtime started when all hell broke loose.
It's like everybody just forgot how to play basketball. Here is the box score for all six overtimes:
In two of the overtimes, both teams were scoreless! There was only one overtime where both teams scored more than three points!
Unfortunately, like the third-longest NBA game in NBA history, the number of minutes played by each player was not recorded. The only player's minutes that we know of is Red Holzman. He played 76 MINUTES that game! This is more than Dale Ellis!
However, unlike Ellis, Holzman played like donkey shit. He put up:
3 Points, 2 Rebounds, 7 Assists
1/9 FG, 1/1 FT
I don't even understand how this is possible. I genuinely think if you gave a middle-schooler 76 minutes in an NBA game, they would at least score more than three points. They would probably have more than seven assists too!
Not a single player had an impressive performance. Some players played like they usually did, but that's it. Although there was no remarkable performance, the best performance was by Arnie Grisen. He had:
26 Points, 8 Rebounds, 1 Assist
11/27 FG, 4/6 FT
The only reason why the game didn't go into a seventh overtime was because of Ralph Beard. Thankfully, Beard took a breakaway shot at the last second with one second left in the sixth overtime. If he had just kept the ball in his hand, this game could have gone to SEVEN overtimes...
Finally, the Rochester Royals shot 58.3% from the free-throw line. The average FT% was 73.3% in the 1950-51 NBA season. In addition, they shot 38.8% from the field. This sounds low, but surprisingly, it is higher than the league average back then (35.7%).
Although this game still holds the record for the longest NBA game in NBA history, this game, in my opinion, could go down as one of the worst games in NBA history.