The Boston Celtics' elimination of LeBron (King) James and the Cleveland Cavaliers dunked a near record audience for ESPN Thursday night.
ESPN's exclusive telecast of the Eastern Conference semifinal Game 6 on May 13 averaged a 6.6 household rating and 8.93 million viewers, according to Nielsen data, the second most ever for the network with a basketball game. Celts-Cavs trailed only the 6.9 rating and 9.88 million watchers ESPN averaged with its Game 4 coverage of the 2009 Western Conference finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets.
The Cleveland/Boston telecast is now ESPN's highest-rated and most-viewed conference semifinal to date, surpassing last year's Game 6 between the Lakers and Houston Rockets, which posted a 5.4 rating and 7.35 million viewers.
ESPN officials said the May 13 telecast is the worldwide leader's third most-viewed program of 2010 and the fifth most-watched NBA playoff game in cable history among households and viewers.
Locally, Cavs/Celt delivered a 29.4 rating in Cleveland, ESPN's highest-rated NBA playoff game ever in that market (records dating back to 2003), while the contest netted a 16.9 rating in Boston, the service's best since Game 6 of the 2008 Eastern Conference finals (Boston-Detroit scored an 18.4 that night).
It was also the highest-rated NBA playoff game ever in Orlando, where the contest scored a 9.4. That bodes well for ESPN and broadcast brethren ABC, which this year have exclusive cable rights to the Eastern Conference finals matchup between the Magic and Celtics. The series tips off in Florida on ABC on Sunday May 16 at 3:30 p.m.
Through eight broadcasts, the NBA playoffs on ABC have averaged a 3.3 national household rating, an increase of 10% compared through the same number of games last season. Viewership is ahead 9% to 5.01 million from 4.58 million.
For its part, ESPN has averaged 3.59 million viewers for 14 telecasts, 4% more than compared to last year's 3.44 million through the corresponding number of games in 2009. Ratings are flat at a 2.7 mark.
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