How long are NBA games usually?

Many games capture a common man’s attention right away by reflecting the team work of the players, showing the high spirits of fans with every single move a player makes. Basketball is one of those games. And NBA is perhaps the most renowned basketball league in the world. But have you ever wondered how long the NBA games last?

Basketball, a game which has become immensely popular all over the globe in the last couple of years, gets attention mostly because of the competitive and intense energy of the players. It is one of the most popular game and some even call it “the national game of America”.

NBA Games – The Method:

Now, how is the game played?

The game is mainly about shooting balls in the opposite team’s basket. The players need to pass the ball to their teammates and bounce or dribble the ball while moving their legs to avoid foul play.  It also requires 2 teams with a maximum of 5 players from each team.

On of the biggest basketball leagues is the NBA and every basketball fan out there for sure has heard its name, with most of them watching their games religiously. NBA has a total of 30 teams with each team representing different state of the country.

It was seen that in 2019/20 about a total of 17 million people sat down in the arenas to watch the whole season of the game with approximately 18 thousand people per game. For such a number of people to sit down with patience and that too in one place, how long do they get to be in the arena or in front of their TVs to watch the game? To find the answer read along.

NBA seasons – an overview:

The NBA game’s regular seasons usually start at the end of the year (usually between October- December) and ends in the mid of the next year (usually from March – May). Up till now a total of 74 seasons have been played.

Each team gets to play 82 games in which about 3 to 4 games are played per week, however sometimes the games can also be played back to back. The teams get to play one match at home and one away that is why they have to go on multiple road trips per season.

The playoffs takes place from April to June and is played between the top 8 teams and that is when the competition gets really tough.

Another interesting thing is that during the playoffs, the league determines a draft lottery for the teams which were not selected for the playoffs and select players for them. For this purpose, they select non professional players (including foreigners and students) in the drafts and the players are tested for the respective matches. Here the advantage is given to the weaker teams and they get to select players for themselves in order to make a win. This is how a really good non-play off team can also be #1 or in the top but for that they also have to go a long way.

In the summer time, the league makes its drafted and non drafted players take part in league tournaments and this helps then to gain experience as well as they also get to know whether they are capable or not and some might even get chance to play for the league’s teams.

Moving to the real topic and the reason we are here, lets get to know the time interval of the game.

Time duration of an individual game:

During the seasons the real question is how long will the game last?

The duration of a NBA basketball is dependent on a few factors which include:

  • Actual play time
  • Time outs
  • Half time
  • Commercial breaks
  • Fouls
  • Replay reviews

The “actual” play-time of a NBA game:

The NBA games are divided into pre season, regular season and post season (also called playoff) games with different time duration in each one of them.

The pre season game can be described as a warm up game in which the game lasts for about 44 minutes in which there are 4 quarters each of which is 11 minutes long. This game is played mainly for training purposes and no scoring is done.

The actual games begin with the start of the regular and play off seasons, determining the top teams of the league and the time of the year when the fans are most engaged with the league.

In the regular as well as post season, the time period in which the game is played is usually about 48 minutes long. The match includes a total of 4 quarters in which each one has duration of 12 minutes. If there is a tie, then the time for the match is increased accordingly. However, the overtime in most cases lasts for just 5 minutes and the winner is determined.

Timeout and half time pauses:

The half time and time out breaks are of great significance in the game which can also be called inter game pauses.

According to the NBA rules, each team is given a 20 seconds long time out per half (however it usually lasts for about 75 seconds) and a total of six regular timeouts per game, which lasts for 1 minute. There is also a rare possibility that the referee will call timeout to review the game (which doesn’t happen very often). Sometimes the time duration is also increased if any player gets injured (in order to take him out of the basketball court).

The timeouts are given by the referee when the coaches of the teams request for one or when the team possessing the ball wants it.

It should also be noted that in a few circumstances of technical fouls, time out is called and one free throw is granted but most of the times the clock keeps on running through the foul.

Apart from these short breaks, a break is taken midway ( i.e. between 2nd and 3rd quarter) through the game which is called “half time” which allows the teams to take a break of approximately 15 minutes, giving them a short rest to gather some energy, as well as sufficient time to think over their strategy . After the half time break, the teams usually switch their positions on the court.

Penalties or time for Fouls:

In the basketball tournament, each team is allowed six fouls after which the player maybe kicked out of the game. If the players of a team ask for excessive time outs, it is recorded as a technical foul and the opposite team is granted a free throw.

There is also a foul called delayed game foul which happens when the ball is not passed promptly and this may also result in a penalty or a free throw which also increases the duration of the game.

The time for a foul or penalty is mostly given during overtime.

During the timeouts, halftime and fouls, the audience is entertained through short performances.

Commercial/ TV breaks time:

There is also some time taken out for TV breaks or commercial breaks which runs for about 1-2 minutes. There are a total of 10 commercial breaks per half but sometimes it is reduced to 8 breaks which happened in the start of 2018’s season.

This break is taken so that the players can have a talk with their coaches and switch team members for a change of strategy.

Most people watching the match from home get annoyed because of the long and boring ads but these commercials are also very important for the feasibility of live broadcasting stations so that their channels can play the moves of the players on rewind as well as have a review of the game and the viewers can catch up with the game.

Including all these factors in count, the game lasts for about 2-3 hours.

Comparing NBA’s timings with other basketball leagues:

Have you ever wondered how the NBA games differ from other leagues across the world?

Well, first of all one of the difference is of time which we will compare in detail in the headings below.

  • Comparison with FIBA
  • Comparison with high school basketball game
  • Comparison with NCAA

NBA vs. FIBA time duration:

The international basketball federation FIBA which organizes basketball games for worldwide players have a major timing difference as compared to NBA.

The game lasts for a total of 40 minutes having four quarters just like the latter one but each quarter is 2 minutes shorter than that of NBA. The overtime duration however is the same for both the leagues which is approximately 5 minutes.

Similarly, the half time in both the leagues is also 15 minutes. Whereas on the other hand the time out for FIBA games is a bit longer than that of NBA and is  1 minute long.

There is also a total of 5 timeouts in FIBA game in which two are in the 1st half and three are taken in the 2nd half. One time out is also granted during overtime if overtime is ruled. On the other hand five fouls are granted in which two are technical ones which allow two free throws and possession of the ball.

Hence comparatively the FIBA game lasts a bit shorter than that of NBA’s game.

NBA vs. NCAA game time:

Comparing NBA with the country’s own league for college students, there is a major difference between the two.

The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) game is played in two halves rather than quarters and each half is of 20 minutes making the total the play time 40 minutes long. The half time of NCAA game is of the same length as that of an NBA game but the time duration may exceed too.

There are four timeouts granted to each team which are 30 seconds long including TV and commercial breaks, which also leads to increased time duration.

For an NCAA game if we include fouls, time outs, half time and TV breaks, then the game can increase to duration of 2 hours and 15 minutes maximum. Yup, it’s still shorter than an NBA game.

NBA vs. Rookie basketball game time:

A high school basket ball game can also be termed as the non professional or rookie game which is quite shorter than the professional one. It also has four quarters but over here, each quarter lasts for 8 minutes giving a total play time of 32 minutes. The high school overtime lasts for 4 minutes and the winning team is decided.

An average high school tournament is of approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes including half time, timeouts, breathers and fouls. The half time break lasts for 10 minutes. The main reason for this is that the game is just a mere play in comparison with NBA and obviously does not have any commercial breaks whatsoever.


A professional NBA game lasts for 48 minutes but the duration increases depending on different factors.  People who plan to attend an NBA match or watch it live should plan about 3 hours for the game which will include the playtime as well as breathers and time for the game to start.

In comparison with European basketball, the NBA game lasts longer because of its longer playtime (by a difference of 8 minutes) and more timeouts than the latter one.

Nevertheless, the game is an enjoyable event to watch especially with fellow basketball fans and one of the greatest games to invest your time for.