So that happened.
After being down 12 points at the end of the third quarter, the Boston Celtics stunned the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, going on a 40-16 tear to secure a 120-108 victory. Ime Udoka’s squad is now 8-2 on the road for the postseason, and in waltzing off with the opener, the Celtics gave Steve Kerr what amounts to only his third Game 1 loss in 24 playoff series appearances.
Until the wheels came flying off in the final frame, Golden State seemed to be cruising to an easy win. Steph Curry sunk six threes in the first quarter, while Boston sharpshooter Jayson Tatum spent much of the game looking as if he was trying to force a regulation Wilson game ball through a Nerf hoop. (Curry went on to ring up a game-high 34 points to Tatum’s 12.) But Boston played a flawless fourth, knocking down shot after shot while stifling the Warriors’ offense.
On the eve of his 36th birthday, Al Horford had a career night, celebrating his NBA Finals debut with 26 points, six boards and three assists. Horford’s late run at the hardware is doing wonders for his bank account; for his role in helping the Celtics advance to the title round, the Florida alum earned a $5 million salary bump for next season. An 18th banner for Boston guarantees Horford will pull down $26.5 million in 2022-23.
As the beat-the-traffic crowd began taking their leave from the Chase Center, fans watching from home were left wondering if this NBA season might be headed for an early exit of its own. ABC certainly hopes otherwise; after all, the deeper into June the Finals run, the more ads the network can sell to the likes of YouTube TV, Progressive, Apple, KFC and, um, YouTube TV. The streamer (and presenting sponsor) was ubiquitous throughout Thursday’s broadcast, airing multiple in-game touts for a subscription service it claims is “$750 less than cable per year.”
Although much of the ad inventory was scooped up by official NBA sponsors—PepsiCo ran spots for its Gatorade, Ruffles and Mountain Dew brands, while State Farm, Taco Bell, AT&T and Google splashed their own messages throughout the breaks—ABC made sure to leave the light on for the film studios. Now that Top Gun: Maverick has lured older moviegoers back to the multiplex, the studios have begun throwing pre-pandemic sums of ad money back into televised sports. The theatrical resurgence is long overdue; per iSpot.tv data, the studios’ share of ad impressions last season was down 71% versus the 2019-20 campaign.
Sony Pictures bookended a first-quarter commercial pod with treatments for the upcoming Brad Pitt murder-comedy Bullet Train, while Universal forked over around $1.75 million to get fannies in the seats for a pair of people-getting-eaten-by-toothy-predators flicks (Jurassic World: Dominion and Beast) and Warner Bros. dedicated a unit to Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis.
Naturally, Disney wasn’t about to let its celluloid rivals steal the show on a night when up to 15 million potential moviegoers were expected to be glued to the Celtics-Warriors game. The ABC parent company used Game 1 as a vehicle to promote a sampling of its summer popcorn slate, running spots for Marvel’s Thor: Love and Thunder and the Pixar Toy Story prequel Lightyear. The recently-launched Disney+ miniseries Obi-Wan Kenobi also got a turn in the NBA Finals spotlight.
Speaking of Obi-Wan, if the Jedi master somehow managed to tune into last night’s game, he’d probably suspect that the American economy is fueled entirely by movies, fast-food restaurants, automakers, insurance brokers and various phone companies. But Thursday’s broadcast did feature one categorical outlier in Crypto.com.
As much as it’s understandable that some fans might have been surprised to see that the cryptocurrency exchange was still plugging away on the promotional front (and in the summer’s most impactful media environment, no less), the NBA Finals buy represents only a small part of Crypto’s marketing plan. In the midst of a crash that would vaporize $500 billion in market value, the exchange unveiled a new “Fortune Favors the Brave” spot featuring Joel Embiid. Having aired regularly since premiering in Game 3 of the Sixers-Heat playoff series, the Crypto ad popped up again in last night’s opener.
Even if the last month has been a real bear for the buy-the-dip crowd, sticking to its original media plan is the prudent play for Crypto. For one thing, the advertiser that cancels a large-scale media buy can expect to pay a hefty reconnection fee should it ever decide to get back into national TV. As it is, newcomers already pay significant premiums to advertise in top-shelf sporting events—if you don’t put the squeeze on the rich novice with the ridiculous media budget, John Maynard Keynes will come out of the ground and strangle you in your sleep—so there’s little to be gained from ignoring one’s own marketing slogan.
Perhaps more to the point, Crypto in the last year has been on a sports spree, buying the naming rights for the Staples Center—now the Crypto.com Arena—for $700 million, and inking a multiyear deal to replace StubHub as the Sixers’ jersey patch partner. Backing out of a TV buy would not only be bad for business, but it wouldn’t make sense in the greater scheme of things. And in the fall, long after the NBA Finals are over, Crypto will be all over the NFL like ticks on a hound.
As Steve Kerr works on adjusting the battle plan for Game 2, ABC may have some further tinkering of its own to do with its broadcast booth. While this marks the first regularly scheduled NBA Finals since 2019, the coronavirus still managed to disrupt Thursday night’s proceedings, as lead NBA voice Mike Breen and analyst Jeff Van Gundy were scratched hours before the tip-off. Breen, who is on the mend, also missed Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
ESPN veteran Mark Jones subbed in for Breen on Thursday, calling the game alongside Mark Jackson, the lone member of the regular three-man rotation who’d been cleared for service. Monday Night Football standby Lisa Salters did the honors as sideline reporter, with Doris Burke calling the action on ESPN Radio.