On December 2, 2021, the Memphis Grizzlies utterly and absolutely annihilated the Oklahoma City Thunder 152-79, a 73 point differential. It's the largest blowout in NBA history. But the blowout is not something new in the NBA and it has been happening a lot more frequently than it use to.
The game between the Grizzlies and the Thunder was never close. The Grizzlies scored 31 points in the first quarter and the Thunder did not hit that mark until the 2:41 mark in the second quarter, by which time the Grizzlies had a 30 point lead. With 9:39 to go in the third quarter, the Grizzlies had 80 points, which means had they not scored again in the game they would have still won.
There are several kinds of blowouts in basketball. There is the traditional 20 point blowout, something every team suffers several times a year. Even the great 73-9 Warriors suffered 3 20+ point blowouts in their season. The 72-10 Chicago Bulls suffered just one. You can also find one of these blowouts almost nightly in the NBA. Then there are the bigger blowouts, where a team loses by 35 or more points. These are rare, but you see them a few times a month. The Grizzlies, who handed the Thunder this epic blowout, were themselves blown out by 43 points a few nights before by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Finally, there are the super blowouts; these blowouts are 50 or more points and are just one team utterly dominating another.
While rare, 50-plus point super blowouts are becoming more and more common.11 of the 44 regular seasons 50-plus point wins in NBA history have come in just the last 10 seasons, and 4 in the last two seasons. This does not take into account three games last year in which a team won by 48 or 49 points because the trailing team hit a last-second shot.
It is hard to predict when a super blowout will happen too. Even the best NBA odds rarely show blowouts in the lines, the Grizzlies-Thunder game had the Grizzlies winning by 11 points. Sometimes the oddsmakers can be totally off, for example, a game in 2018 had the Jazz as 8 point favorites vs the Dallas Mavericks, the Mavs ended up winning that game by 50 points.
Super blowouts usually do occur when a terrible team has a really bad night, but the winning team is usually not a front runner for the NBA title either. Of the 44 regular season blowouts, only the Lakers in 1966 and 1972. Bucks in 1971, and Celtics in 62 went on to make the NBA finals. Many of the winning teams in the blowouts don't even make the playoffs.
The loser in a super blowout, however, usually is terrible. The 2021-22 Thunder are tanking and trying to lose as many games as possible to rebuild. The previous largest blowout, a 69 point Miami Heat loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1991 was between a wannabe title contender and a Heat team three years removed from expansion
There have been 5 super blowouts in the playoffs too, and they usually are first-round games between a really good team and a team that has little to no experience in the playoffs. The last of these super blowouts was between the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets, which saw the Nuggets win 121-63. The 58 point blowout is tied for the largest victory in NBA playoff history, the Minneapolis Lakers beat the St. Louis Hawks by 58 in 1956 as well. Of the 5 super blowouts in playoff history, only 2 are recent. The Denver win in 2009 and a Chicago Bulls thumping of the Bucks in 2015. The other three occurred before 1973.
The NBA finals luckily have never had a true super blowout, in that no team has ever won by 50 or more points. But the 1998 Chicago Bulls did totally embarrass the Utah Jazz 96-54. The game marks the only 40 point win in NBA finals history.
But what has caused the increase in blowouts? Well, several factors.
First, teams are intentionally trying to lose games. This is what the Thunder are doing. The Thunder came out with Ty Jerome, Darius Bazley, Tre Mann, Lu Dort, and Jerimiah Robinson-Earl. They sat Derrick Favors, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, and Theo Maledon; all guys who play major minutes and are amongst the best players on the team. Reminder, that this Thunder team is not winning games when those players play. So this was pretty much a G-league team vs a team who made the NBA playoffs a year ago.
Second, the three-point line has created an advantage for good shooting teams to rack up points. The Grizzlies hit 19-three pointers attributing to 57 points. The Thunder hit a respectable 11, but only accounted for 33 points. The Thunder also shot 28% from three while the Grizzlies shot a blister 53%.
Finally, talent disparity has become a real problem. That is not to say every team does not have talent, and talent parity is probably the best it has ever been in the NBA. But as noted above, teams frequently sit players negating the parody.
One other thing that should be mentioned is the COVID-19 virus and the effects it has had on roster make-up. While the virus did not play a part in the Thunder's destruction at the hands of the Grizzlies, it has played a part in previous blowouts.
Luckily super blowouts are rare, and while they can be fun to talk about they are not good for the game. Likely most fans of both the Grizzlies and Thunder turned the game off at half-time. Nobody wants to see a team get embarrassed like this, but as long as these type of games remain an oddity the NBA will be fine.