Lakers-Warriors play-in game delivers ESPN's best NBA ratings since 2019 playoffs

Forget getting fired, the inventor of the NBA's play-in tournament is probably getting promoted.

The ESPN telecast of Wednesday's play-in game between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers drew an average audience of 5.6 million viewers and peaked with 6.1 million viewers in the final half-hour, according to ESPN's Ben Cafardo.

It was reportedly the most-watched NBA game on ESPN since the 2019 Western Conference finals, which featured the Warriors against the Portland Trail Blazers. The telecast even topped last season's play-in game on ABC by 190 percent, despite the latter being more widely available.

Pretty good for a game that wouldn't have existed two seasons ago.

It's not a surprise that the Warriors-Lakers play-in game was the most-watched of the tournament. The game featured the defending champions and arguably the two most famous players of their generation in LeBron James and Stephen Curry. The Lakers ended up pulling out a 103-100 win in a back-and-forth thriller, with James posting a triple-double and the game-winning 3-pointer to overcome Curry's 37-point performance.

The ratings for last season's NBA playoffs were notoriously weak, so Wednesday's strong performance is undoubtedly a good sign for a league trying to return to normal operations as quickly as possible.

NBA play-in tournament has been extremely hit or miss

While the league got exactly what it wanted with its Lakers-Warriors play-in game, the rest of the games so far haven't exactly impressed.

The tournament opened with by far its weakest game, a comically one-sided beatdown in which the Indiana Pacers eliminated the Charlotte Hornets with a 27-point win. The next game between the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics was a bit better, almost entirely thanks to a 50-point game from Jayson Tatum.

The Memphis Grizzlies eliminated the San Antonio Spurs in the other play-in game on Wednesday, which looked like another snoozer until the Spurs made a valiant comeback that ended up falling short.

The NBA has two more games remaining in its play-in tournament, with the Pacers facing the Wizards on Thursday and the Grizzlies against the Warriors on Friday.

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