The 2022 Eastern Conference Finals featuring the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat will be remembered for a great many things. But there will be very few who look back upon the series and fondly recall the quality basketball played. Because, to be frank, there was not very much quality basketball at all. Four of the seven games were won by more than 10 points and all but one game featured a double-digit deficit at one point. It was a competitive series because it went seven games but the games themselves were largely uncompetitive.
It turns out that didn't matter at all in the land of ratings. Today brought reports that viewership for the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals was up 40 percent from 2021, and Sunday night's Game 7 peaked at 12.2 million viewers. It was ESPN's most-watched Conference Finals game in four years.
That 40 percent jump from last year is pretty remarkable, even after acknowledging that Bucks-Hawks wasn't nearly as enticing a matchup nor as good a series and the leading superstar got hurt in the middle of it. The NBA was hit harder than perhaps any other sport by the interruption in regular viewing practices after the pandemic and viewership numbers tanked during the bubble and the season afterwards. Based on these numbers, it seems that water is starting to find its level again.
Maybe the biggest benefit for basketball is returning to its regular schedule. The Finals will finally be starting in the first week of June again, and the Conference Finals wrapping up on Memorial Day is perfect. Game 7 taking place on the Sunday of a holiday weekend absolutely gave the final viewership a tangible boost it would've lacked otherwise if everybody had to get up for work or school the next morning.
Anybody who watched the Heat-Celtics series wouldn't have guessed that the numbers would've been this good. It was a lot of very ugly basketball, a battle of attrition rather than skill. But playoffs are playoffs and everybody loves a Game 7. The NBA will officially be Back (in ratings land, anyway) if this success is carried over to the Celtics-Warriors finals matchup.