Bulls-Pacers game could be top non-finals NBA telecast ever

Sunday’s Chicago Bulls-Indiana Pacers game on NBC scored an average 20.7 rating, 34 share in 35 markets metered by Nielsen, giving it a strong chance to emerge in national results as the highest-rated non-finals NBA telecast ever.

To set the record, the national rating for game seven, to be issued by Nielsen today, must beat the 16.3/30 of an April 27, 1973, Boston Celtics-N.Y. Knicks game-six matchup. Given basketball’s large-market strength and diminished rural appeal, achieving the record isn’t a slam dunk, but it does appear likely.

Sunday’s big numbers give NBC a taste of what it’s been missing in the six years since the NBA last managed to come up with an opponent capable of taking a Michael Jordan-led Bulls team to a seventh and deciding game.

Not since 1992, when the Knicks succumbed in seven in a conference semifinal, has a Jordan-led Bulls team been taken to the maximum seven games by any playoff foe.

High in Indy

Sunday’s dramatic Bulls win did its best numbers in the Indianapolis market, where a city of mostly Pacers fans gave the game a 50.2/69. Chicago followed with a 43.8/65. In Salt Lake City, where the Utah Jazz were ready to take on whichever team won the Bulls-Pacers series, viewers gave Sunday’s hoopcast a 35.0/57. In L.A. the game did a 19.8/40 and in Gotham it earned a 19.2/30.

With the Bulls narrowly surviving the Pacers’ challenge and moving on to the finals against the Jazz, NBC is spared for at least one more year the lower numbers of a finals without Jordan.

In the 1990s, the five previous NBA finals that have included Jordan and the Bulls have averaged roughly a 16.3/31 and the three finals without them have settled for around a 12.8/24 in primetime.

NBC easily won Sunday night in metered-market results, with a 17.6/29 average, ahead of CBS’ 11.1/18, Fox’s 7.0/10, ABC’s 6.5/10 and WB’s 2.3/14.

If NBC could somehow maintain Sunday’s overnight average in national results, the Bulls-Pacers game would be the second-highest-rated pro-basketball telecast ever, behind only the 1988 game-seven finals showdown between the L.A. Lakers and Detroit Pistons (21.2/37).

Other top national ratings have been 1993’s Chicago-Phoenix game six (20.3/39), last year’s Chicago-Utah game 5 (20.1/35), and 1993’s Chicago-Phoenix game 4 (19.8/35).

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