Basketball is one of the most played and watched sports in the world. The NBA (National Basketball Association) is only second to FIFA in terms of the number of fans and viewers. However, even if millions of fans watch their favorite NBA teams, not many of them know exactly how long a basketball game lasts. I’ve seen this question asked in many forums online so I wrote this article to describe the length of basketball games in the NBA.
How long is a basketball game in the NBA? A basketball game in the NBA lasts approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. In the 2018-2019 season, games lasted an average of 137 minutes (2 hours and 17 minutes) during the regular season and 160 minutes (or 2 hours and 40 minutes) during the playoffs.
The game is played in four quarters. Each quarter has 12 minutes. So, technically, an NBA game should only last no longer than 48 minutes. However, many things can happen during a game that will stretch the total duration to as much as two hours or more. There has also never been a basketball game in the NBA that has lasted less than an hour.
Knowing how long a basketball game lasts will become relevant if you have important things to do before or after the game. Read on to learn more about how long a basketball game lasts in the NBA as well as what factors affect its length.
How Long Is a Basketball Game?
The NBA rules specify that a professional basketball game will have four quarters. Each quarter is 12 minutes (no more, no less). That should take no more than 48 minutes for the NBA teams to finish a basketball game. However, these recommended numbers of minutes are seldom followed.
Many things can happen on the floor and stretch the total length of each basketball game. Each team is allowed several timeouts per game. The referees can also call timeouts.
Fouls can never be eliminated during a game. The referees or team coaches will almost always have to review the tape before finally confirming any call. Every foul shot, every referee call, and anything that happens on the floor will affect how long a game will be played. We have not even considered the game going overtime yet. There are no limits as to how many OTs can be played.
Considering all these things, the total time a professional basketball game played in the NBA is at least two hours and 11 minutes. Most have gone even longer than that. The time clock may indicate the last two minutes. But in real-time, these two minutes could stretch up to five or more minutes.
As mentioned earlier, in the 2018-2019 season, a typical basketball game in the NBA lasted an average of 137 minutes (2 hours and 17 minutes) during the regular season and 160 minutes (or 2 hours and 40 minutes) during the playoffs.
What Factors Affect the Length of an NBA Game?
A professional basketball game is very dynamic. Even if every quarter of the game has a specific number of minutes, the actual time still varies due to some unforeseen factors. Every NBA fan knows that a particular game will last more than the allotted 48 minutes.
In 2018, the average NBA game took about two hours and 11 minutes at the end of the buzzer. To explain why a basketball game in the NBA takes approximately more than two hours to finish, here is a list of the common factors that affect the length of each basketball game.
- Timeouts – A timeout takes about two minutes.
- Out-of-bound Balls – This will take about two to three seconds.
- Foul Calls – Lasts about two to three seconds.
- Foul Shots – A free throw shooter is required to release the ball in 10 seconds.
- Commercial Breaks – One commercial break takes about 20-30 seconds.
- Quarter Breaks – One-quarter break takes about two seconds.
- Halftime Break – This break is about 15 minutes.
- Substitution – This takes about 1-2 seconds.
- Overtime – One OT is 5 minutes.
- Anything that happens on the floor that disrupts the game
In the NBA, the halftime break is about 15 minutes. There are also quarter breaks, which take about 130 seconds or about two minutes. There are at least two-quarter breaks for each game. These breaks happen during the first half of the game and another in the second half.
Commercial breaks are part and parcel of every game. There are even more significant and longer commercial breaks during big games, such as the playoffs and the finals. They often last longer than quarter breaks.
How Long Are Regular and Postseason NBA Basketball Games?
Every game in the regular season of the NBA has 48 minutes of regulation time. But during the postseason, the games last longer because every team is allowed to have more substitutions and more shooting fouls.
On average, NBA games typically last 137 minutes during regular seasons. In the postseason, the games last approximately 160 minutes. During a typical game, each team is allowed to have six timeouts. Four of these timeouts are mandatory.
What Is the Actual Length of an Average NBA Game?
On paper, an NBA game should only last 48 minutes. But when you watch it on TV, the game will stretch longer than that. The main reason is the addition of commercial breaks or advertisements.
That is why if you watch an NBA game on TV, you usually spend around two hours and 11 minutes or more (without overtime from two teams) before finding out the winner. You can easily spend two hours and a half watching the game if there is one overtime.
However, watching live NBA is a different ball game. The time frame for this activity is different from how you watch it at home on TV. First, you need to be at the ticket gates at least 45 minutes to one hour before the game starts. If not, you will be fighting the crowds just to get in. Also, be prepared to spend at least three hours if you want to see a live NBA match.
What Is the Longest NBA Game on Record?
Rochester Royals Vs. Indianapolis Olympians
Now that we answered how long do basketball games last, let’s look at the longest NBA basketball games ever. The longest NBA game played on record was between the Rochester Royals and the Indianapolis Olympians. It happened in 1951, and it took these two teams about six overtimes to finish the game. The total length of time was about four hours.
This game happened on Jan. 6, 1951. The Olympians were only able to beat the Royals after six overtimes. Even then, it was a low-scoring game. The final score was only 75 Olympians against 73 Royals.
They say that this game was one of the reasons why the league made a move to increase the scoring. The league introduced the 24-second time clock after four seasons in 1955. It is still strictly enforced now.
Seattle SuperSonics Vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The longest NBA game in current history, after the enforcement of the 24-second rule, is the match between the Seattle SuperSonics and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks finally defeated the SuperSonics after five overtimes and 73 minutes. The final score was 155 Bucks against 154 SuperSonics.
Who Establishes How Long an NBA Game Should Be Played?
The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) is the international body that manages everything related to basketball, whether it is professional or amateur basketball. This organization determines the rules of the game and controls all things related to basketball.
This governing body is the one responsible for setting how long basketball games should be played. The NBA, being at the top, including all professional basketball associations around the world, are mandated to follow the rules created by FIBA strictly. In basketball, FIBA says that every game should be played in four quarters.
The NBA, in particular, chose that every basketball game in the league should be played in 48 minutes with four quarters. How how long is a quarter in basketball? Each basketball quarter in the NBA for 12 minutes. This North American basketball league decided to apply these rules when it was founded on June 6, 1946, around 70 years ago. How long do basketball games last in reality? As mentioned earlier, basketball games typically last 2 hours and 11 minutes.
How Does the Overtime Rule Work in the NBA?
There are many cases where a basketball game runs into overtime. Overtime follows upon the end of regulation time and a tied score between the two teams. If the score is still identical at the end of the overtime, another OT will follow. The basketball game will go on until one team wins.
The rule says that there should be 130 seconds between the end of the regular game and the OT. In other words, that is additional time on top of the OT of 5 minutes. So, if you have two OTs before a team wins, there will be approximately 26 minutes added to the total game time.
For every OT, each team is allowed to have two timeouts. The most number of overtimes that happened in the NBA, according to its record, is six OTs in 1951. As mentioned before, it was the match between the Rochester Royals and the Indianapolis Olympians. The score settled at 75–73 in favor of the Olympians.
NBA Players Who Have the Longest Playing Time on Record
There are professional basketball players who enjoyed long playing times in a single NBA game. Here is a list of these players who played the longest minutes in an NBA game.
- Dale Ellis – Played 69 minutes on Nov. 9, 1989, in a losing game that had five OTs. His team, Seattle SuperSonics, lost to the Milwaukee Bucks to a heartbreaking 154-155.
- Xavier McDaniel – Played a total of 68 minutes for the SuperSonics in the same game.
- Norm Nixon – Played for 64 minutes on a losing game with four OTs against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
- Sleepy Floyd – Played for 64 minutes in four OTs on a winning game against the New Jersey Nets with a final score of 150–147.
- Vince Carter – Played 63 minutes in a 2001 game with three OTs. His team, the Toronto Raptors lost the game against the Sacramento Kings.
- Jay Humphries – Played 62 minutes in a winning game against the Seattle SuperSonics. It was the same game where Dale Ellis played for 69 minutes.
- Jalen Rose – Played 61 minutes against the Houston Rockets with a triple OT. Unfortunately, his team lost.
- Brian Grant – Played 61 minutes in 1997 for the Portland Trail Blazers against the Phoenix Suns with four OTs. The Suns won the game with the final score of 140-139. It was a heartbreaking loss to the Blazers.
NBA Wants to Improve Game Flow Time
In 2017, the NBA came up with specific rules that would improve the game flow. These rules were precipitated by what many have observed as the “last two minutes” syndrome, which runs at 30 minutes.
To correct this situation, the NBA has changed specific timeout rules. The NBA board of governors agreed to restrict the wandering of free-throw shooters, standardize the length of the halftime period, and decrease the number of timeouts.
Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, said that the league is satisfied with how long a game is played. When asked how long are NBA games, he commented that the average game in their regular season is around 2 hours and 23 minutes. With the adaption of these new rules, it has gone down to just 2 hours and 11 minutes.
Silver added that they are more focused on the flow and pace of the game. He also said that they were sensitive to the desires of the fans who said that the ends of the games were too choppy. He said he hopes that these new changes will have a positive impact, especially on the dying minutes of NBA games.
With the new rules, the total number of timeouts allowed for a team will be down to 14 from the previous 18. Additionally, there will only be two timeouts in the final three minutes of each game. Previously, the teams were allowed three timeouts in the last two minutes of a game.
Conclusion – How Long Is a Basketball Game in the NBA?
So, to recap, how long are basketball games in the NBA? A typical NBA game will last about 2 hours and 15 minutes. How long is an NBA quarter? A basketball game in the NBA is played in four quarters, and there are 12 minutes for every quarter. Based on this, a regular NBA game should only last for 48 minutes and not one minute longer.
In reality, there is no game in the NBA that lasted in just less than an hour. Several things can happen during a game, and such events can stretch the total length of a game to as much as two hours and a half or even more.