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On This Date in Sports April 9, 1978: Scoring Duel

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

A season-long duel for the NBA’s scoring title comes down to the last day of the regular season between George Gervin of the San Antonio Spurs and David Thompson of the Denver Nuggets. Gervin needing 58 points, scored 63 points against the New Orleans Jazz to win the scoring title. Thompson playing an early game, appears to put the scoring title away with 73 points against the Detroit Pistons.

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After the 1976 season, four teams were invited to join the NBA when the ABA folded. This gave fans who only watched the NBA their first chance to see some of the biggest talents in professional basketball, including David “Skywalker” Thompson of the Denver Nuggets and George “The Iceman” Gervin of the San Antonio Spurs. In their second season in the NBA, both stars lit up the scoreboard every night. After 81 games, the two were locked in a close battle for the scoring title, with Gervin holding a slight advantage. Each team had won their respective divisions, with the San Antonio Spurs leading the Central Division and the Denver Nuggets winning the Midwest and were the second seed in their conferences heading into the playoffs. With the Spurs and Nuggets each secure in their playoff position, George Gervin and David Thompson were free to focus on putting up as big a game as possible.

The Denver Nuggets finished the regular season on the road against the Detroit Pistons in what would be their final game at Cobo Arena before moving to the Pontiac Silverdome. The game was hardly a sellout as just 3,842 were in attendance. With 15 points separating the two, Thompson got off to a fast start in Detroit, setting a new record with 32 points in the first quarter. This broke the record for most points in a quarter set by Wilt Chamberlain in his historic 100-point game in 1962. He would add 21 points in the second quarter to post 53 by halftime. David Thompson would finish the game with 73 points, the most ever scored by a guard in an NBA game and the second-highest scoring title in a game that did not go to overtime. Despite Thompson’s historic afternoon, the Nuggets suffered a 139-137 loss to the Pistons.

The San Antonio Spurs also finished their regular season on the road at the Louisiana Superdome against the New Orleans Jazz. Holding a 15-point lead for the scoring title, George Gervin needed 58 points to win after David Thompson’s big day in Detroit. While a small crowd greeted his rival at Denver’s Stapleton Airport. The Iceman was getting ready to make history himself. After starting with 20 points in the first quarter, Gervin broke the record that David Thompson set earlier in the day, scoring 33 points in the second quarter. The Iceman would finish with 63 points, winning the scoring title by five points in the closest race in NBA history as he averaged 27.22 ppg compared to Thompson’s 27.15. Like the Nuggets, Gervin’s 63-point effort came in a loss, as the Jazz beat the Spurs 153-132.

George Gervin would win the scoring three straight seasons, winning again in 1979 and 1980, adding a fourth scoring title in 1982. However, the force would not be with David Thompson, as he never won an NBA scoring title, as his 1972 average would be a career-best.