Despite featuring two NBA teams from small markets, TNT's coverage of the Oklahoma City Thunder-San Antonio Spurs Western Conference finals series was a ratings slam dunk, averaging nearly 8 million viewers, according to network officials.
Last night's Game 6 coverage of the Western Conference Finals -- in which the Kevin Durant-led Thunder defeated a veteran Spurs team to clinch a spot in the NBA Finals -- drew 9.4 million viewers, up 30% in ratings compared to the network's last Game 6 telecast between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns in 2010, said TNT.
Overall the Thunder-Spurs series averaged a 5.0 U.S. household rating and 7.8 million viewers, up 16% in U.S. household rating and 13% among total viewers compared with ESPN's coverage of last year's Western Conference Finals between the Thunder and Dallas Mavericks.
TNT's 2011 coverage of the Miami Heat-Chicago Bulls Eastern Conference Finals averaged a cable-record 8.6 million viewers over the five-game series won by the Heat.
TNT's high ratings came despite neither team representing a top 25 TV market -- Oklahoma City ranks 44th in the country and San Antonio is DMA No. 36.
During the 2012 postseason, TNT's delivered its second most-viewed and second highest-rated playoffs in its 28-year history with the league. TNT's 42 telecasts averaged a 3.1 U.S. rating, nearly 3.6 million households and just under 4.82 million viewers on average. With the 2011 playoffs, TNT averaged a 3.5 rating and 5.53 million viewers, the top marks in cable history.
For its part, ESPN will look to continue its strong Eastern Conference Finals coverage tonight with Game 6 of the Boston Celtics-Miami Heat series, which the Celtics can close out with a win at home. Game 4 of the series drew an ESPN record 11.07 million viewers, while Game 5 garnered 10.2 million viewers, according to the network.
Through five games, the series has averaged 9.3 million viewers, up 35% from ESPN's 2011 coverage of the Thunder-Dallas Mavericks. As such, it's on pace to become the most-watched NBA playoff series in cable history.