Late-Game Performances, Legacies and Nielsens


Pro basketball fans can’t really ask for much more than the 2011 Finals.

Over the first five games, Dallas and Miami have played four tight ones, three claimed by three points or less, including a duo decided by last-second shots by Dirk Nowitzki: a left-hand drive that fell for Mavs in Game 2 and a missed turnaround line jumper that gave Game 3 to the Heat. The 7-foot German also overcame 102-degree fever and converted the biggest shot — a right-side drive — of the fourth affair.

For their parts, ABC, ESPN and NBA officials have to be ecstatic over the Nielsens, which are stacking up quite well with last year and the 2004 championship series.

Mark (Email Silent) Cuban’s Mavericks, behind a stellar finish by Dirk and Jason Terry, ran past Dwayne Wade and the fourth-quarter faux King, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat, leaving their fans at American Airlines Center with a parting gift of a 3-2 series lead, which they’ll take to South Beach on Sunday night.

Terry was on the runway with Dirk as they outdueled D-Wade and the scoring-challenged LeCon down the stretch of Game 5. ABC netted 18.3 million viewers, including a 7.7 rating with persons 18 to 34, a 7.4 among persons 18 to 49 and a 7.6 against adults 25 to 54, with its coverage of Dallas’ stirring 112-103 victory. Those deliveries netted the Alphabet a 24th consecutive nightly win with the NBA Finals over the years.

ABC’s June 9 telecast of Game 5, like Game 4 before it, was the top Finals finisher among persons 18 to 34 and 18 to 49 since the Los Angeles Lakers-Detroit Pistons battle in 2004. It should be noted the Pistons clinched their third franchise championship in the former contest, before 21.8 million total viewers. Thursday’s Game 5 was ABC’s second-highest-ever non-series-clinching game during its nine years of broadcasting The Finals.

Based on five-game averages, the 2011 NBA Finals continues to outperform the 2010 Lakers-Boston Celtics matchup among persons 18 to 49 (6.6 vs. 6.5) and adults 18 to 34 (6.8 vs. 6.6), posting up seven-year bests since 2004. Through the first five games, the 2010 series averaged 16.2 million viewers and a 9.6 rating, while this year’s matchup has generated almost 16.1 million, easily surpassing the 12.9 million average for the six-game 2006 Finals and a 9.5 mark.

Still, Game 5 of Mavs-Heat fell some 400,000 short of the 18.7 million for the corresponding contest between the Lakers-Celtics last year, but scored 4 million more than Game 5 of the Mavs-Heat circa 2006, which averaged 14.3 million.

As Miami looks to stave off elimination and Dirk, Terry and  fellow veterans JKidd and Shawn Marion try to don their first-ever crown on Sunday night, ABC hopes to outpoint the 18 million who watched Game 6 of Lakers-Celtics last year. That game — a 22-point Lakers’ blowout after Kendrick Perkins injured his knee — saw its audience fall from the 18.7 million for Game 5 of that series.

Maybe if LeBron can manage to get to the rack in the fourth quarter — he has just 11 points in the final stanzas of the first five contests — Miami might defend its home court. A Game 7 victory and series MVP laurels would steel Dirk’s legacy or further D-Wade’s — he won the honor in 2006. Moreover, a decisive game would likely blow up with the Nielsens on Tuesday night: 28.2 million saw the Lakers repeat last year.

If the series reaches its ultimate stage, it would be better if the Heat were to go cold, that way the NBA and its TV partners could ride another Miami and James championship chase next season — if and when that campaign tips off.