The NBA returned on Christmas and unwrapped Nielsen presents, highlighted by TNT scoring the fourth-largest, regular-season audience in cable history, and ESPN posting its most-watched Dec. 25 pro basketball telecast.
TNT netted a 3.4 U.S. household rating, 3.9 million households and 5.9 million viewers for its coverage of the New York Knicks-Boston Celtics season-opener at noon (ET), according to Nielsen data.
The game, a two-point Knicks' comeback win, became cable's most-watched ever Christmas NBA contest. It was also the fourth-largest ever for the pro basketball league's regular season behind TNT's presentations of the 2010 season opener between the Miami Heat and the Celtics (7.35 million viewers); the Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 2, 2010 (7.09 million); and the Los Angeles Lakers-Chicago Bulls on Feb. 2, 1996 (7.27 million).
TNT's airing of Knicks-Celtics, the first game during the NBA's lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, was up 47% over the 4.01 million who watched ESPN's Christmas 2010 opener between the Knicks and Bulls.
The 2011 tipoff thriller was one of four NBA games that outpaced their window counterparts from last Christmas. The Dallas Mavericks-Heat rematch of the 2011 Finals posted a 3.7% gain to 9 million viewers for ABC from the Alphabet's 8.68 million for Celtics-Orlando Magic in the 2:30 p.m. window a year ago, despite yesterday's matchup being a blowout from the outset.
ABC's 5 p.m. contest, the Bulls' 88-87 win over the Lakers declined 16.1% to 11 million viewers from 13.1 million for the much-hyped first confrontation between the LeBron James-led Heat and the Lakers last year. Still, Bulls-Lakers scored as ABC's third-highest-rated NBA regular-season game behind the aforementioned contest and the Lakers-Heat on Christmas 2004.
On ESPN, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder easily handled Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic, netting 2.6 million viewers in the 8 p.m. window, up 28% from 2.03 million for Thunder-Denver Nuggets on Christmas 2010.
Capping the NBA's return: Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers led ESPN to tally 3 million viewers during their win over the Golden State Warriors, a 74% leap from 1.73 million for Warriors-Portland a year ago. Sunday night's delivery now ranks as the worldwide leader's best-ever Christmas performance, according to network officials.