Traditional punditry suggests a Nuggets-Heat Finals would be disastrous for the NBA as it approaches a new media rights deal. Denver and Miami are two of the league’s bottom-half markets. Neither of their stars have won a Championship. Neither are major social media presences.
Yet audience for Game 1 and 2 matched last year’s Celtics-Warriors games. Sunday’s broadcast peaked with 15.25 million viewers. Why?
Quality: Heading into the postseason our World Basketball Ratings rated Denver the 5th best team in the NBA and Miami 6th. Nikola Jokić is the world’s 9th-best sportsperson, and ‘Playoff Jimmy’ is a 6-time All-Star.
Jeopardy: On performance terms, the teams are more equally-matched than their seedings suggest. And with 5 games to go and the Finals tied, the lower-ranked Heat now have an extra home game, despite just finishing a 7-game series and having played two more postseason games in aggregate.
Connection: The Nuggets are a historical underdog looking for their first NBA title. The Heat this postseason’s underdog, given their regular season performance and postseason journey. Team-leaders Jokić and Butler provide new reasons for NBA fans and viewers to buy in.
Fans respond to authentic stories. The modern NBA postseason competition format has successfully delivered this in 2023.