Last weekend, game four of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and Heat drew an NBA cable record 7.9 rating. That record lasted a total of... two games. Game six on Thursday drew an 8.2 overnight, and game seven between the Celtics and Heat on Saturday shattered that mark, drawing an eye-popping 9.1 overnight rating. The last time there was a game seven in the Eastern Conference Finals was 2005 between the Pistons and Heat, which only had a 6.2 rating. Excluding the NBA Finals, that 9.1 rating is the highest for an NBA playoff game, on either cable or network TV, since 2002, when the Western Conference Finals game seven between the Kings and Lakers drew a 16.0 rating on NBC.
The local numbers for Saturday's game are even more crazy. In the Miami market, the game drew a 25.0 rating, the highest ever for an ESPN NBA game, and third highest ever for a NBA game on cable. Boston set a record for an NBA game on cable, drawing a 21.7 rating. In comparison, game seven of last year's NHL Eastern Conference Final between the Bruins and Lightning drew a 18.8 on Versus. That 21.7 falls well short of the Bruins Stanley Cup Final run last year, which drew an average rating of a 28.1 in Boston. It would have been interesting to see what the Celtics in the NBA Finals could have done.
At any rate, the Celtics-Heat series shattered records for ESPN. The record for the highest rating for an NBA game on cable was broken three times, with game seven picking up 15% on game four, which initially broke the record.
When you compare ESPN's insane numbers for this series to TNT's numbers for the Western Conference Finals between the Thunder and Spurs, it seems obvious who the main draws are in the league: the guys out east. But don't sell the west short despite the 3.1 average rating, because while ratings for the series were down 11% in ratings from 2011, it was still the second-highest rated series in TNT's NBA playoff airings, and the series was up 11% from 2010.
The NBA and ABC are in a prime position for the Finals, which start on Tuesday. You have the Heat, coming off of an exciting, ratings bonanza of a series taking on the Thunder, led by a well-liked young core of players who won a series that got the second-most eyeballs in TNT history. Coming off of last year's Finals, the third most-viewed of all-time on ABC with a 10.2 average rating, new records seem inevitable in the aftermath of the Conference Finals. The record on ABC is an 11.5 average rating, set in the 2004 Lakers-Pistons series. With the Heat once again in the spotlight, and a much more exciting team than the Mavericks last year as their opponent, this playoff season could go down as the highest viewed in NBA history. That would be an amazing coup for the league, which went through an abbreviated season this year after the lockout claimed the summer and most of the fall.
[h/t: Sports Media Watch for tons of ratings information]