50-Point Games Are For Losers
11:55 AM EST on February 7, 2021
One-hundred and fifty-two NBA players have scored 50 points or more 576 times, and all that work has led to victory 418 times, which is to say that going for 50 only gets you a win a little more than 70 percent of the time.
If that's what's important to you, that is. Wilt Chamberlain scored 50 122 times, and lost 37 of those games, probably all to Bill Russell. Chamberlain had plenty of other interests, though, so you can judge how traumatic his .697 winning percentage in 50-point games was to him.
Still, it's hard to imagine what Stephen Curry did last night in Dallas—going for 57 points in one of his most Currytastic performances ever and still ending the night on the losing side, especially when one considers that two nights earlier the Golden State Warriors beat the Mavs 147-116 with only nine players, none of them over 6-foot-7. I mean, the Warriors are easily the weirdest team in the NBA for about 15 different reasons, and the box score from Thursday's game is one of the most hilarious, but you'd think they should be able to close the deal when their best player scores double his average. And you'd be wrong, clearly, because this anomaly happens about three in every 10 events.
But wait, there's more, which is to say less. Nikola Jokic, the current favorite to win the Most Valuable Player award, dropped his own 50-burger later in the evening AND distributed 12 assists to support Denver's 119-114 loss in Sacramento to the Fightin' Redfords. Now that's unprecedented, of course. Surely it couldn't have happened ever, and you'd be correct, right to the point where you realize that almost nothing is unprecedented and that most things you believe haven't happened in decades actually happened last Thursday, or in this case a year ago last November when Golden State's D'Angelo Russell went for 52 in a loss at Minnesota a couple of hours after Damian Lillard went for 60 while losing at home to Brooklyn.
In short, 50 point-games increasingly guarantee nothing. Indeed, Bradley Beal has managed to lose three games this January in which he scored 60, 47, and 41 points, leading to rumors (that he denied) that he deserved a new team. Nobody is buying that, of course, because what's the point of making up a rumor if it can be dismissed with just a single sentence by the principal individual in the rumor?
Anyway, Saturday provided a nice reminder that in the new NBA, points are becoming less accurate barometer of team success than, say, fewer points. It's a metric well worth torturing in the days before the Absentee All-Star Game. In the meantime: Wilt Chamberlain, 69 percent. You can call-response the "nice" with your kids while you're watching whatever it is you're viewing to avoid the pregame show.