For the first time since 1979, both of the NBA’s conferences — the East and the West — will have their championship series decided in a seventh game. ESPN and TNT are salivating for the bonus action, especially during a holiday weekend when programming competition is not at peak levels.
Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals will be tonight in Boston. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers forced the deciding game with a win Friday night over the Celtics. In terms of ratings, Game 6 gained 6% over Game 5 and put the series overall 21% ahead of the 2017 edition, which saw the Cavs beat the Celtics, four games to one.
Notable entries on Sunday opposite the basketball game are NBC’s America Ninja Warriors, ABC’s America’s Funniest Home Videos and two-hour Deception season finale, and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 race on Fox.
The other Game 7, on TNT, will be Monday night in Houston between the Rockets and Steph Curry’s defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. On Saturday night, the Warriors routed the Rockets, 115-86. On Monday night, the airwaves are a little more crowded than on Sunday, with ABC airing a new Bachelorette, Fox running two bonus episodes of the just-canceled Lucifer, and NBC offering Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
After a couple of days to recover, the weekend’s NBA winners will meet Thursday in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on ABC. The broadcast network has drawn stellar viewership numbers for the Finals over the past three years — the best numbers since Michael Jordan’s final titles in the late-1990s.
Although the NBA’s TV ratings narrative overall remains positive, there are some potential areas of concern. Last year, the Warriors clinched the championship in only five games, not ideal from a network or advertiser point of view, so that kind of one-sided Finals series is always possible. Plus, while James remains a marquee draw, as do the Warriors, another meeting between them this year would make four straight Warriors-Cavs Finals. Their third duel in a row made NBA history last year, and still managed to average more than 20 million viewers a game. Even so, network execs could have reason to wonder if the lack of novelty could erode viewership — though if the conference championship round has taught us anything, it’s that the best ratings tonic is often a seven-game series.
Final note: Basketball buffs will recall that those 1979 seventh games were won by the Washington Bullets and Seattle SuperSonics — two teams that no longer exist, at least under the same names. The Bullets became the Wizards in 1995 and the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008 and became the Thunder.