Hoops Helps TNT Post Ratings Three-peat

The Boston Celtics’ last stand of the 2008-09 NBA season drew 8.38 million viewers to TNT Sunday night, making Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals the most watched pro hoops game on cable in five years.

The overmatched defending champs fell to the Orlando Magic 101-82, in a game that delivered a 28 percent bigger audience than TNT’s presentation of the deciding game of last year’s Spurs-Hornets showdown.

Over the course of 13 second-round NBA Playoff games, TNT set a high-water mark with an average delivery of 5.07 million viewers. Its coverage of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Magic and LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers tips off Wednesday night at 8 p.m.

TNT closed out the week ended May 17 with its third straight prime-time ratings win of 2009, averaging 3.64 million viewers, per Nielsen. The network coasted to a sweep of the three major demos, averaging 2.01 million viewers 18-49, 1.95 million adults 25-54 and 1.05 million viewers 18-34.

For the week, TNT notched five of ad-supported cable’s most-watched programs, including Game 5 of the Celtics-Magic series, which scared up 5.23 million viewers Tuesday night. Immediately following Boston’s 92-88 win was Game 5 of the Lakers-Rockets series, a 118-78 blowout that drew 5.19 million fans, retaining 99 percent of of its lead-in.

Second place on the week went to USA Network, which averaged 2.65 million viewers as it took the silver among the three demos. USA drew 1.2 million 25-54s, 1.11 million 18-49s and 497,000 18-34s, notching its best program delivery with Monday night’s WWE Raw (4.68 million viewers).

USA’s original series In Plain Sight made a run at the top 10 last week, averaging 3.95 million total viewers Sunday night at 10 p.m., an improvement of 9.6 percent versus the prior week delivery (3.6 million).

Without the benefit of its own Game 7––Sunday afternoon’s Lakers-Rockets final was carried by ABC––ESPN dropped to fourth on the week with 1.76 million viewers, trailing Fox News Channel (1.94 million).

ESPN took third among viewers 18-49 (852,000) and 25-54 (805,000), while claiming fourth place among the 18-34 set (439,000), hot on the heels of TBS (469,000). The sports net boasted two of the week’s most-viewed programs on ad-supported cable, including Game 6 of the Lakers-Rockets series, which drew 7.35 million viewers Thursday night (9:51 p.m.-12:53 a.m.). Houston’s 95-80 win at home forced Sunday afternoon’s elimination match.

The Rockets’ final victory of the 2008-09 campaign led out of Game 6 of the Celtics-Magic throw-down, an 83-75 Orlando win that drew 4.8 million viewers.

Closing out the top five was Nickelodeon/Nick-at-Nite, which drew 1.57 million viewers as iCarly continued to put up big numbers. The May 16 installment of the Nickelodeon comedy drew 4.32 million viewers in the 8 p.m. slot, of which 2.3 million were kids 2-11 and 1.7 million were members of the K6-11 demo.

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel finished fourth among all basic-cable nets, averaging 2.1 million total viewers in prime time.