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How long does a basketball game last? (from anthem to final buzzer)

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You’ve reached that time of day when you can finally kick back, relax and turn the basketball game on TV.

You flip to the sports channel and start off by watching the basketball pundits discuss the match up.

Tip-off is still a few minutes away.

While waiting for your take-out delivery to arrive, you crack open a beer and suddenly hear the singing of the national anthem.

You’re pumped because you know game start is inching closer.

But just before the action is about to drop, you ask yourself the same question thousands of people ask on game day.

How long does a basketball game last?

The duration of an NBA basketball game is 2.5 hours in real time, from anthem to final buzzer. Each game is made up of 4 twelve-minute quarters and a fifteen-minute half time (63 minutes or 1.05 hours total). The remaining time is mostly made up of play stoppages, timeouts and scheduled commercial breaks.

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Play stoppages are the result of dead ball situations such as free throws, fouls, substitutions, out-of-bounds and play reviews.

These types of stoppages are expected to take place during your average basketball game. 

As a note, the NBA has an agreement in place with the TV networks to cut to commercial breaks. There must be at least two TV timeouts during each quarter.

The first two TV timeouts of each quarter last for 2:45 minutes for locally televised games and 3:15 minutes for those that are nationally televised. 

Additional commercial breaks during play are 1:15 minutes long.

The league also integrates commercial breaks during half-time, which makes up the remaining of their advertisement quota.

There is also some stoppage of play between quarters 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 – those are 2:10 minutes long.

How many timeouts do teams get and for how long?

NBA teams get 7 timeouts each per game. 

Timeouts are 20 seconds long, which allow players to rest, for coaches strategize a play or regroup the troops.

Can basketball games last longer than expected?

There are times when a basketball game will go beyond the expected 2.5 hours of TV time. 

The most common reason is due to overtime when the score remains tied after regulation time. In other words, if the game is tied after 48 minutes (four quarters) of play, extra time is required.

Overtime in Regular Season & Playoffs

During both regular season and playoffs, tie games lead to a 5-minute overtime periods. 

If the game is still not settled after the first overtime, the game will proceed to another 5-minute overtime period and so on. 

The whole ordeal will extend the game by another 15 minutes per overtime period, in real time.

So, how many games make it to overtime?

Approximately 6% of all NBA games reach overtime. That is about 76-78 games from a total of 1230 regular season games. (source)

Most of those games are settled within the first period of overtime.

The team with the most total points at the end of the 5-minute overtime is declared the game winner.

Should the score remain tied after the first overtime, the game moves onto the next overtime period – and so on and so forth. 

Unexpected Delays

In the regular season, as in the playoffs, there is the possibility of unexpected delays that can cause the game to last beyond the 2.5-hour benchmark.

The delays can be a result of player injury, review of plays, damaged backboard or support structure, electricity blackout and so on.

Scheduled Delays

Teams will occasionally schedule in a ceremony to commemorate a milestone, honor a player or celebrate an historic achievement. These take place prior to game start and fans are often notified of the event in advance. 

How long do Basketball games last in other leagues?

There are several other popular basketball leagues that get extensive TV coverage such as: FIBA and NCAA Basketball.

The game time for these leagues actually differ from the NBA. And as a result, the length of game in real time is affected too.

The following table illustrates the differences in game structure and overall game length for each of the leagues. Note that I didn't factor in overtime in the values.

Game Lengths for Televised Basketball Leagues

League

Game Structure

real-time

NBA

4x Quarters/ 12 min each

2.5 hours

FIBA

4x Quarters / 10 min each

2 hours

NCAA

2 Halves / 20 min each

2 hours

If you'd like to read up on more of my basketball content, make sure to check out my blog posts such as What NBA team has the most wins in a season and What is a triple-double in basketball.

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