The NBA couldn’t have asked for a better Bubble restart, as the league’s biggest ratings draw pitted a pair of turf-sharing rivals in a nail-biter that served as a reminder of what fans have been missing during the last four months of self-isolation.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the Lakers’ 103-101 win over the Clippers averaged 3.35 million viewers and a 2.1 household rating on TNT, making it the eighth most-watched game of the 2019-20 season. It was also TNT’s highest-rated game since its Oct. 22 season opener (also Lakers-Clippers) averaged 3.58 million viewers and a 2.2 rating.
While the all-L.A. contest wasn’t exactly a showcase for crisp basketball—the two L.A. squads combined for 57 personal fouls, well above the NBA’s season average of 29.1 per game—the league’s biggest star erased any lingering memories of sloppiness with his heroics in the last 15 seconds of play. After his mid-range jumper clanged off the front of the rim, LeBron James floated above the five Clippers clustered in the paint, scooping up the rebound and scoring the winning basket in one smooth motion.
Then, on the other end of the court, James put the defensive clamps down on Kawhi Leonard and then Paul George, forcing the latter to shoot an off-kilter three that didn’t drop in. And just like that, basketball was back.
The early game was just as fun to watch, as the Utah Jazz battled back from a 16-point deficit to upend the New Orleans Pelicans 106-104. While the return of rookie phenom Zion Williamson gives the Pels a fair shake at forcing a play-in game for the last berth in the Western Conference bracket, a team-imposed restriction on the 20-year-old’s minutes kept him off the court for much of the fourth quarter.
Williamson’s participation in Thursday night’s Bubble opener was a game-time decision. The first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft spent 12 days away from the team in order to attend to an urgent family matter, returning to Orlando last Friday. After clearing a mandatory four-day quarantine, Williamson was cleared to practice on Tuesday afternoon.
Tipping off at 6:30 p.m. EDT, the Jazz-Pels game averaged 2.11 million viewers and a 1.3 rating on TNT.
The Jazz are currently the fourth seed in the West. The team’s presence in the first restart game was significant, as Utah center Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID-19 test precipitated the NBA shutdown back on March 11.
Among the highest-spending advertisers that bought time in TNT’s Thursday night doubleheader were Nike, Geico, FanDuel, Rocket Mortgage, Autotrader, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kia and American Express. As expected, the NBA’s younger-skewing audience made the games a must-buy for beer brands (Modelo, Michelob Ultra, Corona Extra) and fast food outlets (Taco Bell, Burger King, Popeyes).
On average, the going rate for a 30-second in-game unit during last night’s games was around $75,000 a pop, per iSpot.tv estimates.
Both games began with an observance of the Black Lives Matter movement, as each player in uniform knelt during the national anthem while wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan.
“The game of basketball has always been bigger than just a ball and a rim and 10 guys on the floor,” James told TNT sideline reporter Jared Greenberg after the game. “It’s an opportunity to… be able to spread a lot of positivity, a lot of love, throughout the course of the whole world.
“This is a good start; this is a good start tonight,” he said. “It’s great to have the NBA back, and I hope our fans are proud of us tonight.”