This NBA Finals series was always about length.
As in LA being able to trot out a long frontline of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom than proved way too tall and powerful for its fallen Western Conference foes: Oklahoma City, (especially) Utah and Phoenix.
As in Boston having enough long and/or burly bodies in the various shapes, forms and games of Kevin (”Big Ticket”) Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Glen (”Big Baby”) Davis and Rasheed (”Big Technical”) Wallace to combat the lengthy Lakers.
And most importantly for ABC and ESPN to have the series go long enough to enable The Walt Disney Co. to reap strong viewership and make their advertising bones.
Well, all, or least most, of the parties have gone to great lengths to see that all of this happened, entering Game 7 tonight at Staples Center.
Perkins, unfortunately, won’t be on the floor having sustained a devastating knee injury in the early moments of Game 6 that will require extensive rehabilitation, while Bynum’s meniscus woes have severely limited his playing time and effectiveness. Still, if the youngster can play long - at this stage, his best moves remain being 7-feet and nearly 300 pounds, plus keeping those arms up high on catches and rebounds - LA has a size advantage the Celtics may not be able to surmount. (And if foul trouble mounts for the Cs, does Doc Rivers call on Candace Parker’s hubby, Sheldon Williams, whose embarrassing exploits during the end of the second quarter in Game 2 don’t even qualify as substandard.)
Through six games, ABC has won every night with ratings and viewers: averaging a 9.7 national rating and 16.4 million watchers. Those numbers represent 15% gains from last year’s Finals between the Orlando Magic and the Lakers, and mark The Finals’ highest six-game averages since the 2004 matchup between LA and the Detroit Pistons.
As expected, the longer it went, Nielsen interest in the series grew contest by contest — Game 1: 8.6 rating, 14.1 million viewers; Game 2: 9.2 rating, 15.7 million viewers; Game 3: 9.6 rating, 16 million viewers; Game 4: 9.9 rating, 16.4 million viewers; and Game 5: 10.8 rating, 18.7 million viewers — until the sixth affair.
With the Lakers pushing their advantage to 20 points or more in the second quarter and the Celtics never making even a half-hearted run, Game 6 fell back to a 10.4 rating and some 18 million watchers.
So, what happens tonight with only the league’s fourth Game 7 since Larry Legend’s Celtics toppled Magic Johnson’s Lakers at the old Boston Garden in 1984?
Will Phil Jackson extend his streak to 48 consecutive series victories after taking game one? Will Boston push its Game 7 Finals mark to 8-0, with the Lakers playing the foil for the fifth time? Can Kobe and crew match Hakeem Olajuwon’s 1994 Houston Rockets (sadly, over Patrick Ewing’s New York Knicks) and the 1988 Lakers (defeating Chuck Daly’s “Bad Boy” Pistons) in claiming the crown after coming home facing a 3-2 deficit? Will The Black Mamba drop 40 (in how many shots?) to close out Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo and match Magic’s five titles with the Lakers and come within one championship of MJ’s mantle of six diadems? Will the Lakers repeat, cutting Boston’s head-to-head advantage in The Finals to 9-3 and the all-time championship edge among the league’s most storied franchises to 17 to 16? Can an enthralling Game 7 push the LeBron, D-Wade and other free-agent fodder off the NBA’s radar for a day or two?
Will it be a competitive contest that will push past the 11.9 rating and 19 million viewers ABC netted with the NBA’s last Game 7, the San Antonio Spurs foiling the Pistons and Wallace’s repeat efforts in 2005?
If the score’s tight, bet on the finale of this lengthy series dunking well in excess of 20 million watchers.