One & Done: Twenty-five years ago, the Orlando Magic’s Scott Skiles dished 30 assists

Matt Guokas wanted to make sure Scott Skiles reached the 30-assist mark.

Jon Soohoo/NBAE/Getty Images

In the world of sports, athletes often dedicate their entire lives to reaching the pinnacle of their profession, but for many, life at the top can be short-lived. Sometimes all a player gets to experience at the highest level is one minute on the court, one trip to the plate, one shot on goal or one checkered flag, but more often than not, that fleeting moment in the spotlight is a story all its own. This is One and Done, a FOX Sports series profiling athletes, their paths to success and the stories behind some of sports’ most ephemeral brushes with glory.

Scott Skiles has the Orlando Magic off to a surprising 18-13 start in his first season as the head coach of his former team.

Under Skiles, the Magic have already exceeded the expectations set during 20-, 23- and 25-win seasons the last three years, respectively, but while Orlando may be playing well enough to get itself into the playoffs, it’s unlikely anyone on this or any other team will ever beat the personal mark Skiles set 25 years ago this week.

On Dec. 30, 1990, Skiles set an NBA single-game record with 30 assists in Orlando’s 155-116 win over the Denver Nuggets, topping the 29 assists dished out by New Jersey Nets guard Kevin Porter against the Houston Rockets in February 1978.

In front of a sellout crowd of 15,077 at the since-demolished Orlando Arena, Skiles logged more than twice as many dimes as the entire Nuggets lineup (Denver had 14 as a team), and his effort came as a surprise to everyone in the building — including himself.

"Right now I am on top of the world," Skiles told the Orlando Sentinel after the game, the seventh win of the season for the Magic, who were in their second year of existence at the time. "I am just in a state of shock."

Scott Skiles now coaches the Orlando Magic.

One might think that a 30-assist game would come as a result of a concerted effort on setting an all-time mark, but Skiles, the target of trade rumors at the time, has always maintained that he never set out to break a record. Rather, Skiles’ mountain of assists was a result of a fast-paced Magic offense and a bad Nuggets D that also surrendered a 20-assist game to Skiles later that season.

Playing under new head coach Paul Westhead, Denver’s offensive philosophy at the time was essentially to sprint down court and hoist up a jump shot as quickly as possible. The night of Skiles’ record, the Nuggets took 119 shots at a 39.5 percent clip — there are only 10 games in NBA history that included a field goal percentage of 39.5 or lower on 119 or more shots and five of them were from that year’s Nuggets — and frequent long rebounds led to several Magic fast breaks.

"The game was like ones I played out on the asphalt when I was growing up," Skiles said in an as-told-to piece at NBA.com in 2005. "Denver was playing wild and crazy, and we were taking advantage of that by scoring on easy drives and dunks. It was like a layup drill at times. The Nuggets didn’t contest many shots, and we opened a double-digit lead right away."

By halftime, Skiles already had 14 assists — his career high, also the Magic franchise record, was 18 — as Orlando took a 72-49 lead into the break. Then in the second half, it became clear that Skiles might have a chance to hit 30. By the end of the third quarter, Skiles’ assist total was up to 25, and with 6:57 to go in the fourth, Skiles tied Porter with his 29th assist of the night.

At that point, the question wasn’t so much if he’d pass Porter, but when and by how many. However, getting to 30 didn’t prove easy.

Magic coach Matt Guokas had already informed Skiles that, with the game well out of hand and the rest of the starting lineup on the bench, he’d be checking out once he hit 30, but that message seemingly never made it to Magic swingman Jerry Reynolds, who took over on offense over the final seven minutes, effectively boxing Skiles out of his 30th assist.

"I guess everyone in the arena knew but me," Reynolds told the Sentinel after the game. "My shot hadn’t been falling, and that is why I was driving to the basket. Then Scott came up to me and said, ‘Hey, just shoot the ball. Help me get the record.’"

With 19.6 seconds left, Reynolds hit a 20-footer off a Skiles pass on what was likely Orlando’s last offensive possession of the game. The basket gave Reynolds a game-high 27 points — his career best in a reserve role — and finally gave Skiles the record. In addition, Skiles also scored 22 points in the game, and the Magic’s 155 total points also set a franchise mark that still stands.

"I looked at the film about a week later, and saw that my teammates hit a lot of tough shots off my passes — and that we shot .570 as a team overall," Skiles said in the NBA.com piece. "If any of those shots were missed, I would have fallen short, so I owe the record to my teammates."

In the quarter-century since Skiles’ 30-assist night, his record has proven difficult to challenge, much less break.

The NBA has seen 80 individual games with 20 or more assists since, including eight in the playoffs. But those games are spread among 30 players, and just one of them, John Stockton, had a game with more than 25 assists in that span — and Stockton’s 28-assist effort against the Spurs came just 16 days after Skiles set the record.

Further, in the last 10 years, there have been 36 different 20-assist games, and in the last five seasons, only Rajon Rondo has proven capable of regularly hitting the 20-assist mark, with his career high at 24. With that in mind, anyone setting a new all-time mark seems improbable, but Skiles doesn’t just think someone will — he hopes it’ll happen.

"I’ve always been uncomfortable talking about any sort of individual (achievement)," Skiles told the Orlando Sentinel earlier this season in an oral history of the game. "I would much rather talk about some great team I played on. So that’s all. My career’s played and over with, and that’s the one thing that kind of goes with me. I would trade that in a heartbeat to have been on a really good club and play in The Finals or something like that.

"There’s enough teams playing more of a running, wide-open style now with shooters around the floor, so it’s only a matter of time," Skiles added to the Sentinel. "Somebody’s going to break it at some point."

PREVIOUS ONE & DONES:

May 5: Mario Andretti

May 12: Dean Morton

May 19: Ross Browner

May 26: Dave Salvian

June 2: Mine That Bird

June 9: Kerwin Bell

June 16: MIchael Campbell

June 23: Tyson Wheeler

June 30: Roe Skidmore

July 7: Steven Hill

July 14: LaMarr Hoyt

July 21: Bernard Quarles

July 28: Matt Tupman

August 4: Kevin Melillo

August 11: Roy Gleason

August 18: Cory Aldridge

August 25: Tom Brown

September 1: Tony Cloninger

September 8: Mike Pantazis

September 15: Wilbur Wood

September 22: Doug Clarey

September 29: Danny Young

October 6: Chad Wiseman

October 13: David Matranga

October 20: Brad Fast

October 27: Zenyatta

November 3: Ohio Northern

November 10: Dave Scholz

November 17: Matt Walsh

November 24: Clint Longley

December 1: Steve O’Neal

December 8: 1985 Miami Dolphins

December 15: 1998 New York Giants

December 22: Ed Podolak

 

You can follow Sam Gardner on Twitter or email him at samgardnerfox@gmail.com.