Thursday night's Game 2 between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder drew the highest preliminary television rating for an NBA Finals game since 2004. According to the Associated Press, the ABC telecast earned an 11.8 overnight rating.
Millions of fans tuned in to watch the Heat even up the series at 1-1. After Miami bolted to an early 18-2 lead, the Thunder fought back, but the late-game efforts of James and Dwyane Wade kept Oklahoma City at bay. The hard-fought battle no doubt appealed to NBA fans nationwide.
Not since the 2004 championship series between the Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers has the NBA seen such high ratings. Game 2 of that series produced a 12.3 overnight rating. The series, which featured stars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, was won by the Pistons, 4-1, in what was considered a significant upset.
Overnight ratings take into account the United States' largest television markets.
According to Nielsen, more than 13 million viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 watched Thursday's Game 2. By comparison, the next most-watched program in that time slot was a re-run of "Person of Interest" on CBS, which drew 6.89 million viewers in the same demographic. A repeat episode of "The Big Bang Theory" on CBS was the second highest scoring program on the night, attracting 7.84 million viewers.
The draw of James and Durant is clearly more attractive to fans than last year's Finals between the Heat and Dallas Mavericks. The 11.8 overnight rating marks a 12.3 percent increase over the 2011 series, won by Dallas in six games behind the efforts of Dirk Nowitzki.
The evenly matched teams in this year's Finals certainly bode well for ratings as the series progresses to more pivotal games. The teams now head to Miami for three games, and it is becoming clear that all games will go down to the wire.
The NBA had been experiencing a decline in NBA Finals ratings, bottoming out in 2007 when the San Antonio Spurs swept the Cleveland Cavaliers, and a paltry 6.2 rating was reported. That rating marked the lowest watched NBA Finals in league history.
But in 2008, a big market battle between the Lakers and Boston Celtics pushed ratings up to 9.3, and two years later, the teams met again to produce a 10.6 rating. This year's Finals seem well on their way to surpassing those figures.
NBA executives can only be hoping the series goes the full seven games.
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