Friday, December 23, 2011

Passing Interest

When Scott Skiles first met Brandon Jennings, the Milwaukee Bucks coach sized up the young point guard and asked him:

“Do you know who holds the NBA record for assists in a game?”

The answer, of course, is Skiles, who handed out 30 dimes for the Orlando Magic in a 155-116 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 30, 1990.

In recent interviews, however, Skiles has seemed ambivalent about his record, often stating that he wishes someone would break it because he is tired of talking about the mark.

Everything surrounding the record seems strange. One would think that Skiles would cling to the fact that he owns a piece of NBA immortality despite being a slightly above-average guard who played for five teams in a 10-season career. Without the record, he might be remembered more for a flashy pass against Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament and also his brushes with the law while at Michigan State.

These days, Skiles is mostly known as a coach that demands defensive excellence out of his players, which is another reason why he might feel a bit awkward about his 30 assists.

A case can be made that the Denver Nuggets of 1990-’91 rank as one of the worst defensive teams of all time. Paul Westhead, that “Guru of Go,” was in his penultimate season as an NBA coach and didn’t seem to have much interest in anything on defense except getting the ball back and pushing it up the floor.

The Nuggets came into the game at the Orlando Arena with a 6-22 record, worst in the league at the time. They would finish the season allowing a mind-boggling 130.8 points per game.

Denver and Orlando combined for 226 field-goal attempts and 37 turnovers. Skiles lost the ball four times in 44 minutes. He also wasn’t interested in just piling up the assists as he contributed six rebounds and 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting.

Early in the fourth quarter, Skiles tied the record of 29 assists set by the Nets’ Kevin Porter in 1978. Skiles had 13 points in the final quarter and he had eight potential assists squandered by teammates’ missed shots.

The record finally fell when Skiles fed Jerry Reynolds for a 20-foot jumper with 19.6 seconds remaining in the blowout.

Surprisingly, Reynolds (27 points) and Terry Catledge (25) were the main beneficiaries of Skiles’ assists rather than Magic sharpshooters Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson, who combined for 35 points. This is likely because the Nuggets’ porous defense allowed so many shots around the rim.

Regardless of the opposition’s defensive indifference, Skiles’ record still stands. It’s likely to be around for a good while as well, with the NBA game played at a more reasonable pace than Westhead’s preferred style, and also the careful attention paid to stopping opponents by today’s coaches.

So Skiles should get used to talking about it.