The National Basketball Association play-in game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors averaged 5.6 million viewers Wednesday night.
ESPN said the game peaked at 6.1 million viewers around 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The network said the game was the most-watched game on ESPN since the 2019 Western Conference round. That series also featured Curry and the Warriors.
LeBron James led the Lakers to a 103-100 win over the Steph Curry-led Warriors. James finished with a triple-double (22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists), including the winning shot as the seventh seed Lakers secured their playoff spot.
NBA play-in games pair seeds 7-on-10 in each conference, with winners securing the final four playoff spots. The seventh and eighth seeded teams play for the rights to seventh place. The loser of the match still has a chance to decide when the team plays the winner of the ninth and tenth series.
The NBA installed play-in games last summer after the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted the season. And the league was supposed to help national media partners Turner Sports and ESPN recover from financial losses when games were suspended.
According to the NBA, the lower-seeded game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs averaged 2.29 million viewers. The Grizzlies won the game (100-96) and will face the Warriors on Friday for the rights to the final playoff spot.
On Tuesday, Turner also reported a large number of viewers for his matches. The Boston Celtics victory over the Washington Wizards’ seventh series averaged 2.5 million viewers, while the Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers match averaged 1.4 million viewers.
“The early returns are good,” Evan Wasch, executive vice president of basketball strategy and analysis, said when discussing play-in games with CNBC earlier this month. “We’re seeing a higher level of competition at the end of the season. We’re seeing more playoff races from top to bottom in the standings – teams fighting for six, fighting for seven eight, fighting for ten.”
After the play-in, the NBA will begin the 2021 postseason on Saturday, with four games on the schedule, including the Brooklyn Nets as host of the Celtics.