5 closest scoring title races in NBA history

Bradley Beal and Stephen Curry are currently vying for the NBA scoring title.
Bradley Beal and Stephen Curry are currently vying for the NBA scoring title.

The 2020-21 NBA season has presented one of the closest battles for the NBA scoring title in more than a decade. Bradley Beal and Stephen Curry have both been prolific all season and are the biggest reasons why their teams still have a chance of making it to the playoffs this time around.

As things stand, Beal last played against the Indiana Pacers and dropped 50 points. The same day, Curry responded with a 49-point performance against the OKC Thunder. However, Beal’s hamstring injury has resulted in him missing the last three games, leaving Curry on the verge of winning his second scoring title.

Beal is listed as questionable for the Wizards’ match against the Charlotte Hornets while Curry missed the Warriors’ victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Now, if Beal does not play against the Hornets, Curry will need just 10 points to secure the scoring title, while Curry missing the game will mean Beal will require 53 points to clinch it from his grasp.

Closest NBA scoring title races of all time

Currently, Stephen Curry is averaging 31.8 points per game while Beal has registered 31.4 points per game. While this year might have seen one of the closest races for the scoring title in the recent past, the NBA has seen quite a few close races that were decided by lesser margins.

In this article, we look at 5 of the closest battles for the NBA scoring title ever seen.

#5 Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal (1998-99)

The 1998-99 scoring title race was decided by a difference of .5 points per game. While neither player ended up winning the championship, Shaquille O’Neale and Iverson went neck-to-neck the entire season and saw their teams crash out in their respective conference semifinals.

NBA legend Shaquille O
NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal lost three close races for the NBA scoring title.

O’Neale produced 1289 points to finish as the highest scorer while Iverson played a game less and averaged 26.8 points to clinch the crown. For O’Neal, this was the third time he had finished second in the scoring title race, previously losing out to the likes of David Robinson and Michael Jordan in 1998 and 1995 respectively.

#4 Kevin Durant and LeBron James (2009-10)

Kevin Durant has a total of 4 NBA scoring titles, and has a fair shot at finishing in the top-3 for most scoring titles as well. LeBron James, on the other hand, has won just one. He lost out to a 21-year old Durant who became the youngest ever winner of the NBA scoring title in 2010.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant
LeBron James and Kevin Durant

Durant led the league for OKC Thunder both in terms of points per game (2472) and overall points (30.1) scored. He ended up averaging almost 35 points per game during the final month to pip Cleveland Cavaliers’ James in both categories. Again, neither team could mount a title charge as the OKC Thunder lost in the first round to eventual champions LA Lakers.

#3 Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal (1997-98)

As mentioned above, Shaquille O’Neal has lost three of the closest races for the NBA scoring title, something that his free-throw accuracy is often said to be responsible for. En-route to his sixth and final NBA crown, Jordan produced 28.7 points per game and was the Finals MVP against the Utah Jazz as well.

O’Neal had an injury-affected season and finished with more than 65 points less than Michael Jordan. He finished with 1699 points and was 10th on the overall list. However, Jordan averaged 28.7 points per game while O’Neal had 28.3. Michael Jordan ended up retiring from the NBA for the second time at the end of the season.

#2 Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant (2011-12)

To be fair, the 2011-12 NBA season saw a three-headed race for the scoring title that also included the Miami Heat’s LeBron James until the final weeks. In fact, it was James who had scored 1683 points that season and finished second in the total points tally.

However, Durant produced 32 points in the last match that Bryant decided to sit out of, thereby pipping him by a margin of .11 points per game. Durant finished with an average of 28, followed by Bryant at 27.9, while James averaged 27.1 points per game. Of course, the Miami Heat ended up winning the championship with James becoming the MVP as well as the Finals MVP.

#1 George Gervin and David Thompson (1977-78)

Apart from the 2011-12 scoring title race, the only scoring title decided by a margin of .1 or less came during the 1997-98 season. George Gervin, known as “The Iceman” needed exactly 59 points in the final match to clinch the title, which would prove to be his first of three consecutive titles.

Gervin went for 63, and shut down the 23-year old David Thompson’s hopes of winning the scoring title. Thompson never came closer, although it was the Washington Bullets led by Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge that ended up winning the championship.

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Edited by Prem Deshpande
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