How Long are Basketball Games? Professional basketball games and amateur matches alike last for a specific amount of time, but different factors can extend their runtime. Learn how long basketball games typically last, along with a few factors that impact game length.
How Long Are Basketball Games?
Basketball games vary in length, and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and other governing bodies are responsible for determining these lengths. Here is a breakdown of the various game lengths in different basketball leagues:
- NBA: National Basketball Association (NBA) games consist of four twelve-minute quarters, for a total game length of forty-eight minutes. However, the game clock stops throughout that forty-eight-minute period for various reasons, including fouls, halftime, and time-outs. As a result, a typical NBA game during the regular season may last for a total time of two to two and a half hours, while game length during the playoffs and finals may reach three hours. The longest NBA game in history was seventy-eight minutes long, with six overtimes, and took place on January 6, 1951, between the Rochester Royals and the Indianapolis Olympians in Rochester, New York. The Olympians finally won the game with a score of 75–73.
- WNBA: Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) games have two 20-minute halves, for a total game time of forty minutes. Again, clock stoppages extend each game, and regular-season games may run two to two and a half hours. The longest basketball game in WNBA history occurred on June 8, 2002, between the Orlando Miracle and the Cleveland Rockers. The Miracle won—103–99—in a game that lasted two hours and fifty-seven minutes with three overtime periods.
- NCAA: College basketball games, which the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and other governing bodies oversee, are forty minutes in length. However, that time includes two twenty-minute halves in men’s college games, while women’s college games have four ten-minute quarters. The longest NCAA basketball game took place in 1981. The game, between the University of Cincinnati and Bradley University, lasted seventy-five minutes with seven overtimes.
- High school: According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHSA), the length of a high school basketball game and youth basketball game are thirty-two minutes, respectively, with each split into four eight-minute quarters. The real-time length of a high-school basketball game is approximately ninety minutes.
What Factors Affect the Length of Basketball Games?
Several clock stoppage issues can affect the length of basketball games, including:
- Fouls, injuries, and free throws: The game clock stops for fouls, player injury, out-of-bound balls, and free throws. The game clock remains stopped until the ball returns to play with a throw-in or jump ball. Learn about how fouling works in basketball.
- Halftime: The halftime period extends NBA, WNBA, and college basketball game time by fifteen minutes. The sport cannot extend halftime, which may already seem lengthy to viewers watching the game on television due to the commercial breaks that air during the halftime break.
- Overtime: Overtime (OT) also affects the length of a basketball match. NBA basketball games do not have a limit on the number of overtime periods that teams can play. Each overtime period in the NBA, WNBA, and FIBA is five minutes long, and each team receives a handful of additional time-outs for every OT period played. There are no limits to the number of overtime periods allowed in men’s and women’s college basketball games.
- Shot clock: The shot clock is a timer that determines how long a basketball team may possess the ball before a shot attempt. If the shot clock reaches zero before the team attempts a field goal, they lose possession of the ball. The NBA introduced a twenty-four-second shot clock in 1954, while FIBA games, the WNBA, and college basketball games all had thirty-second clocks. However, FIBA and the WNBA adopted the twenty-four-second clock in 2000 and 2006, respectively.
- Time-outs: If an NBA or WNBA team takes all its time-outs in a single game, they can extend the game’s length by up to nine minutes. However, teams must take one full time-out per quarter and can’t use more than three time-outs in the fourth quarter. If two or more time-outs remain in the fourth quarter, the rules reduce the seventy-five-second time-out to twenty seconds. Time-outs only extend NCAA and high school games by less than two minutes.
How Overtime Works in Basketball
Overtime works differently according to the rules of various basketball associations.
- NBA: If an NBA match has a tied score at the end of regulation, the teams will enter a five-minute overtime period, with 130 seconds between regulation and overtime play. Each team will receive two twenty-second time-outs per overtime period, and there is no limit on the number of substitutions for basketball players.
- WNBA: Like the NBA, overtime in WNBA games is also five minutes long. However, the time between regulation and overtime in the WNBA is only 120 seconds. WNBA teams also receive two twenty-second time-outs during overtime but may only substitute one player.
- NCAA: College basketball’s overtime period is also five minutes in length. However, they only receive one time-out—seventy-five seconds in length—at the start of each overtime period.