Every sport seems to come up with its own unique way to divide up a game. Soccer has two halves with a running clock and stoppage time. Hockey divides games into thirds. Baseball has nine innings that aren’t dictated directly by time, but rather by outs. Tennis play sets; golf has holes.
What are the rules for NBA games? Let’s walk through all of the most important timing questions about NBA games, from quarters to overtime and everything in between.
An NBA game is divided into four equivalent quarters, and each quarter is 12 minutes long. Those are the longest quarters in mainstream basketball. WNBA quarters are 10 minutes long, as are the quarters in FIBA. The NBA has always had four 12-minute quarters dating back to the 1940s, which is helpful when making historical comparisons.
While different factors such as whether a game is nationally televised and whether there is a halftime event will influence the length, an NBA halftime is traditionally 15 minutes long. This allows players to take a breather and hear from the coach without lasting too long for their bodies and muscles to cool down. It also happens to be the perfect length for a Red Panda performance.
Officially, an NBA game lasts for 48 minutes. That is four 12-minute quarters. However, when you factor in timeouts, stoppages, halftime and reviews, the actual time stretches out to be much longer. In real-time, an NBA game typically lasts around 2.5 hours.
If two teams are tied at the end of regulation, the game goes to overtime. While the G League has experimented with the “Elam Ending” where the teams would play to a target score, for now, the NBA will start a five-minute overtime period, and continue to play subsequent five-minute periods until the game is no longer tied at the end of a period.
NBA timeouts are actually a fascinating part of a game that deserves its own piece, but each team gets seven timeouts in a game. The first timeout each team takes in a quarter is 2:45 for local games and 3:15 for nationally televised games. After that, each additional timeout is 1:15. Teams also can take advantage of stoppages in play, such as to clean up residue on the court or for officials to review a call, to get a “free” timeout.
All told, NBA games take about 2.5 hours to complete. They are 48 minutes long, divided into four quarters of 12 minutes each. A 15-minute halftime comes between the second and third quarters. If a game goes to overtime they will play five minute quarters until the game is concluded.