High-scoring games haven’t helped Lakers, NBA Finals viewership

The Los Angeles Lakers, and the NBA, may have a scoring problem.

The Los Angeles Lakers have been a part of some of the highest-scoring NBA Finals games in NBA History. They also led the league in ratings this season. However, they just finished playing in the least-viewed Finals in decades. Does our high-scoring NBA actually hurt NBA Finals viewership?

Across four decades of vastly different basketball, the common denominator of a highly-viewed NBA Finals game appears to be one in which both teams score under 100 points.

In my research, I’ve found a list of the most viewed games in NBA Finals history. Below, I’ve bolded the totals where either team has eclipsed 100 points.

10. 2010 Finals Game 7
(15.6, 28.2 million viewers)

Final Score: 83-79

9. 1987 Finals Games 4 and 5
(each 18.9, approximately 28.67 million viewers)

Game 4 Final Score: 107-106
Game 5 Final Score: 123-108

8. 1998 NBA Finals Game 4
(19.1, 18.7 million households, approximately 29.66 million viewers)

Final Score: 86-82

7. 1988 NBA Finals Game 7
(21.2, approximately 30 million viewers)

Final Score: 108-105

6. 1993 NBA Finals Game 4
(19.8, 18.4 million households, approximately 30.3 million viewers)

Final Score: 111-105

5. 1998 NBA Finals Game 5
(19.8, 30.6 million viewers)

Final Score: 83-81

4. 1997 NBA Finals Game 5
(20.1, 19.5 million households, approximately 31 million viewers)

Final Score: 90-88

3. 2016 NBA Finals Game 7 (15.8, 31.02 million viewers)

Final Score: 93-89

2. 1993 NBA Finals Game 6 (20.3, 32.1 million viewers)

Final Score: 99-98

1. 1998 NBA Finals Game 6 (22.3, 35.89 million viewers)

Final Score: 87-86

Well, there you have it. seven of the 11 games boasted scoring totals where both teams were under 100 points. (Take note of the fact that two games between our Lakers and Boston Celtics are listed at number nine). All five of the top five follow this trend.

Contrary to what you often hear, fans seem to like low scoring, close games.

In this year’s NBA Finals, the first three games were the lowest-rated and least-watched NBA Finals games in history!

Maybe we could argue that moments like LeBron James leaving the court while checked into the game have hurt the league’s image. Many have also suggested that the political nature of the game has hurt viewership in 2020.

With enough tension in America, I won’t get into the latter. However, it is important to acknowledge that 2020 viewership has dropped in a number of major professional sports.

But back to the NBA. Now some of this decline is definitely due to competition with the NFL that normally doesn’t exist in a normal NBA season. But, of the three games, only Game 3 was played on a day in which NFL games were an issue.

When you take a closer look at the boxscores, the games were decided by eight, ten, and eleven points respectively. On average, these games were basically all decided by double digits (9.67 to be exact). Generally speaking, nobody enjoys a high-stakes game where one team wins comfortably.
Additionally, these were the only three games where either side cracked 115 points. In the last three games, both teams failed to eclipse this number. Games 1-3 of the NBA Finals averaged 6.65 million views per game. The final three games? 8.24 million.

When comparing the first three games of the finals to the last three, viewership increased by about 20 percent. Yes, there are a few factors, the most obvious of which being that these games held more weight.

That being said, it’s obvious that fans seemed to be more engaged as defensive anchor Bam Adebayo returned, Miami drew closer in the series, and point totals began to drop.

To look at it from another angle, the three highest-scoring games in NBA Finals history were, to no one’s surprise, all involving the Boston Celtics and our Los Angeles Lakers.

The interesting thing to note is that all three of these games were decided by more than 19 points. The highest-scoring game of all time? The game we’ve dubbed “The Memorial Day Massacre” where the 1985 Celtics bludgeoned our Lakers by 34 points.

The other notable game on the list is the third highest-scoring game of all-time. In-Game 2 of the 1987 NBA Finals, The Lakers beat the Celtics 141-122.

As you may have noticed, two games from this series are on the list of most-watched NBA Finals games of all-time. Despite being the highest-scoring affair of the series, this game wasn’t even a top three game in the series in terms of viewership.

In short, we are consistently told by NBA personnel that we “enjoy high scoring games” as fans. In my opinion, that’s not at all the case. 

When the NBA is at its best, it has nothing to do with pushing or not pushing politics. It has little to do with marquee names and matchups (those usually seem to be there). What people want to see is a very close game between two teams that are competing hard on both ends of the floor.

In my opinion, I’d love to see hand-checking return and an overall shift in the way offensive players are unfairly refereed. In the bubble, foul calls were at an all-time high in the initial restart.

Additionally, teams were significantly better on the offensive end in the bubble. In the past, one would think this would be a good sign as we neared the finals. It seems this was far from the case this October.

Hopefully, we can see lower scores, closer games, and higher viewership in the 2021 NBA Finals.