On this day 69 years ago, the Fort Wayne Pistons defeated the Minneapolis Lakers in the lowest scoring game in NBA history, 19-18.
The 37 combined points scored between the two teams in Minneapolis stands alone as the tiniest total the league has ever seen by a wide margin, surpassing the 83 points the Washington Capitols and Detroit Falcons scored on Nov. 2, 1946 in Detroit, a 50-33 victory for Washington.
Minneapolis was the league’s defending champion, and Fort Wayne head coach Murray Mendenhall didn’t feel he had the personnel to deal with George Mikan and the rest of the Lakers loaded lineup. So, he devised a plan, and the opposition, spectators and NBA at large didn’t appreciate it too much.
Mendenhall instructed his players to hold the ball with the idea that if the Lakers didn’t touch the rock, they couldn’t score. For much of the first half, the Pistons played keep away and drained clock. Minneapolis and its fans were dumbfounded as the team even tried fouling to get the ball back. Halfway through the game, the Lakers held a slim 13-11 advantage, with Mikan responsible for 12 of the 13.
The Pistons didn’t stop in the second half, and seemingly left with no other choice, the Lakers stooped to their level. Minneapolis began holding the ball for minutes at a time, too, and the sides combined for 13 second-half points between them. Mikan ended the contest with a game-high 15 points as his team fell after a failed buzzer beater attempt kept the Lakers at bay by one point.
“If that’s basketball, I don’t want any part of it,” said Lakers coach John Kundla after the game.
The bottom line was that Mendenhall’s strategy had worked, and although the shot clock wouldn’t be implemented for about four years in 1954, this game was the beginning of the end of untimed possessions in the NBA. The uproar in the aftermath made it clear to Maurice Podoloff, the first NBA commissioner, serving from 1949-1963, that something had to be done to ensure nothing like this could happen again.
“It seems to me that the teams showed complete disregard for the interest of the fans by the type of game they played,” Podoloff said a day after the snoozefest.
The next time you turn your TV to an NBA and watch the teams go up and down the court in 24 seconds or fewer, you can thank Mendenhall and the 1950-51 Fort Wayne Pistons for the watchable basketball you have before you.