The NBA returned on Christmas and unwrapped Nielsen presents, highlighted by TNT scoring the fourth-largest, regular-season audience in cable history, and ESPN posting its most-watched Dec. 25 pro basketball telecast.
TNT netted a 3.4 U.S. household rating, 3.9 million households and 5.9 million viewers for its coverage of the New York Knicks-Boston Celtics season-opener at noon (ET), according to Nielsen data.
The game, a two-point Knicks' comeback win over the Celtics, became cable's most-watched ever Christmas NBA contest. It was also the fourth-largest ever for the pro basketball league behind TNT's presentation of the 2010 season opener between the Miami Heat and the Celtics (7.35 million viewers), the Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 2, 2010 (7.09 million) and the Los Angeles Lakers-Chicago Bulls on Feb. 2, 1996 (7.27 million).
TNT's presentation of Knicks-Celtics, the first game during the NBA's lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, almost doubled the 1.8 national rating for ESPN's Christmas 2010 opener between the Knicks and Bulls.
The 2011 tipoff thriller was one of four NBA games that outpaced their window counterparts from last Christmas. The Dallas Mavericks-Heat rematch of the 2011 Finals posted a 6% gain to a 5.6 overnight on ABC from a 5.3 for Celtics-Orlando Magic in the 2:30 p.m. window a year ago, despite yesterday's contest being a blowout from the outset.
ABC's 5 p.m. contest, the Bulls' 88-87 win over the Lakers declined to a 6.5 overnight from a 7.3 overnight for Heat-Lakers last year. Still, Bulls-Lakers scored as ABC's third-highest-rated NBA regular-season game behind the aforementioned contest and a 7.9 for Lakers-Heat on Christmas 2004.
On ESPN, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder handled Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic, netting a 1.9 overnight in the 8 p.m. window, up 36% from a 1.4 for the Thunder-Denver Nuggets on Christmas 2010.
Capping the NBA's return: Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers led ESPN to a 2.3 overnight during their win over the Golden State Warriors, a 77% leap from a 1.3 for Warriors-Portland a year ago. That's the worldwide leader's best-ever Christmas performance, according to network officials.