(Updated: The Game 7 thriller delivered a 15.3 rating and 26.3 million viewers, the second-biggest audience since ABC returned to NBA coverage in 2002-03. The 2013 Finals cumed 122.3 million viewers, up 45% from 84.3 million for the five-game 2012 championship series.)
At the Sports Business and Technology Summit on June 19, I channeled my best Mike Wilbon and asked ESPN president John Skipper, "Who do you got in Game 7? Spurs or Heat?" Skipper quickly made the right call from our perch on the stage at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Pavilion: “Nielsen.”
The classic Game 6 between Miami and San Antonio posted up a 12.3 rating and 20.6 million viewers for ABC. While the June 18 telecast trailed the 13.3 rating and 23.9 million watchers for Game 6 of the 2011 Finals, when Dirk Novitizki’s Dallas Mavericks beat the Heat’s Big 3 for the title, it topped the equivalent match-up between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers (10.4, 18 million) in 2010.
All told, Tuesday’s OT thriller claimed by the Heat ranks as the fourth-most-watched NBA game since ABC reacquired rights to the pro hoops circuit in 2003: Game 7 Lakers over Celtics in 2010 with 28.2 million; the aforementioned Mavs-Heat contest in 2011; and the 21.8 million for the Detroit Pistons Game 5 clincher over the Lakers in 2004.
Where will tonight’s legacy-defining contest -- can LeBron will his group to back-to-back titles, or will Tim Duncan don his fifth crown? -- wind up on that list. Given the spectacular lead-in, probably second behind the league’s two marquee franchises’ battle in 2010.
At the Summit, Game 6 was at the center of the conversation at the podium and around the venue. A headband-less James had rallied the Heat from a 10-point deficit to give the Heat the lead entering the final two minutes before Tony Parker’s five-point run and the King’s turnovers and clangers put San Antonio in a position to triumph. However, inside the final 30 seconds missed free throws by Manu Ginobli and Kawhi Leonard and the inability to corral two rebounds -- San Antonio coach Greg Popovich had Duncan on the bench -- enabled Ray Allen’s corner 3 with 5 seconds left that sent matters to OT. In the extra session, the Heat prevailed, aided by a pair of questionable no-calls tha went against the Spurs.
Another dramatic, tight finish will see Nielsens leap for Game 7. Go Spurs.