In a potential championship preview, the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks contest served Turner Sports well, as the nationally televised game averaged 2.8 million viewers, the network said on Friday evening.
The game featuring the best two teams in the National Basketball Association is the most-watched NBA game on any network since opening night on the channel, according to officials from Turner. The network added the Thursday night game was also the most-watched regular-season game on TNT since the Jan. 15, 2018 game between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Bucks beat the Lakers, 111-104, behind reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo's 34 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Lakers All-Star LeBron James finished with his sixth triple-double of the season (21 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists). In the contest, James also moved to ninth on the all-time assists list (8,970), passing Gary Payton.
In their media release, Turner also said Thursday's contest is up 150% over last year's match between the Houston Rockets and Miami Heat, which aired on Dec. 20, 2018. According to Turner, that game drew 1.1 million viewers.
Thursday's game is a win for the NBA, which has seen a decline in ratings. The Sports Business Journal reported TNT saw a 23% drop in ratings to start the season, with ESPN, the NBA's other national partner, suffering a 20% drop.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addressed the ratings issue at SBJ's Dealmakers sports conference earlier this month. Silver called the cable model "broken" as younger viewers switch to non-subscription packages to watch NBA content.
Silver's comments reflected those of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who in November tweeted: "Ratings are down because all of our national broadcasts are exclusively available on cable, which is losing [subscribers] daily. Football benefits from being on broadcast [TV], which is every digital and traditional package along with gambling available in some of the biggest markets."
The NBA is in the middle of a $24 billion media rights deal it extended with Turner and ESPN in 2014. The deal, which runs through the 2024-25 season, pays the league $2.6 billion annually.