Sometimes NBA games can feel like they’re dragging on forever, and other times, they can feel like they’re too short.
As such, it can sometimes feel as though the game stretches on forever.
That isn’t actually the case.
Although the length of the game varies each time, they all tend to last around the same time.
Here’s what you need to know about how long an NBA game is.
How Long Is An NBA Game?
On paper, NBA games are only supposed to last 48 minutes.
That’s because the game is split into four quarters.
Each quarter lasts 12 minutes to make a total of 48 minutes.
However, due to several factors, the game tends to last a lot longer than that.
Most often, an NBA game in the regular season takes two to two-and-a-half hours to play.
During the playoffs, the game lasts even longer.
The average game length of an NBA game in the playoffs is three hours.
Why Do NBA Games Last So Long?
Since the game only lasts 48 minutes on paper, you may be wondering why you’re still watching several minutes later.
There are a few reasons behind the extended game time.
All these factors are variable, which means they might influence some games while being entirely absent from another.
As such, it’s difficult to predict how long any specific game might last.
Here are some variables that affect how long an NBA game lasts.
1. Commercial Breaks
One of the main reasons that NBA games last longer than 48 minutes is commercial breaks.
Like any other TV show, the network needs to make money.
They do so by airing commercials during shows.
Advertising on the court or through pop-ups on the screen is not enough.
Commercial breaks occur roughly every 10 to 20 minutes depending on the action on the court.
For example, if there’s a timeout occurring, then the network will usually cut to a commercial.
Commercials, themselves, last around five to 10 minutes.
A game that has four commercials in it that last 10 minutes each means an additional 40 minutes right there.
Four commercials that last five minutes each will add 20 minutes of extra time to the game.
There are fewer commercials during the regular season than there are during the playoffs.
That’s because more people watch the playoffs than the regular season games.
The network wants to capitalize on that and earn as much money through ad revenue as possible.
That’s one reason playoff games tend to last a bit longer than regular games.
They have more commercial breaks or longer-lasting commercials.
Due to commercials, NBA games can last longer than they should.
Another reason that an NBA game can last a long time is a player sustains an injury.
No one knows when an injury might occur.
Many of the rules exist to help prevent injuries in the first place.
In most cases, players also don’t want to injure each other.
However, in a game like basketball, injuries are inevitable.
When they occur, they can sometimes add a substantial amount of time to the clock.
It all depends on how severe the injury is.
For example, if a player twists their ankle or receives another superficial injury, then there isn’t a lot of time added to the game.
That’s because the player can usually leave the court under their own power or with a bit of help.
More serious injuries take more time.
When a serious injury occurs, they’re usually unable to leave the court or move until they’re cleared.
A medic will come over and check to ensure that it’s safe to move them.
The last thing they want is to move the player and have the injury open up further or become even worse.
In some cases, they also need special equipment to move the player.
For example, they might need a brace or even a stretcher to safely move the player away.
The player then leaves the court, which takes time as well.
If there’s ever any blood, then the court also requires sanitization.
There is more involved in cleaning up blood than just mopping it up.
The crew will come in to clean the area and sanitize it to ensure there isn’t a chance of spreading a blood disease.
All these steps make a game last even longer.
NBA games last for a while if there’s a serious injury on the court.
When something happens on the court, referees might need to take a second look at it to determine how to proceed with a call.
Replays are another reason NBA games last longer than they should.
Replays don’t always happen in a game, but when the stakes are high or when there’s a lot of dirty play happening, referees will often take the time to watch a replay.
This takes time for a few reasons.
For one, the referee needs time to watch several angles of the action on the court.
It’s not an automated process.
They have to manually move the game camera around the court to investigate the scene at different angles.
It isn’t always one referee who examines the play either.
Several referees might examine it to weigh in on the situation.
If it’s an easy call, then the replay may not take that much time.
If it’s a tough call, and the stakes are high, then the replay may take longer.
That’s because the referee wants to ensure that they’re giving a fair and accurate call.
They know that the call they make could change the game drastically.
Replays can add anywhere from a few minutes to 10 minutes to the game.
If the network decides the situation is dragging on, then they might even cut for a commercial break, which can extend the game even further.
Replays can make a game last longer than it should.
4. Free Throws
One of the most integral parts of basketball is the free throw.
Many teams use them strategically to earn more points when they need them or to pull ahead.
That’s why they’ll often try to get the other team to foul them.
The problem with free throws is that they add to the game clock.
The action on the court stops and everyone goes to one side of the court to defend against or aid a free throw.
While free throws themselves add to the clock because they don’t bring down the game clock, there’s also another reason that they make NBA games last longer.
There’s a bit of prep time before every free throw.
When a player gets to shoot a free throw, they stand alone on one side of the court.
Flanking them are members of their own team and the other team.
A lot of pressure rests on their shoulders to make the shot.
If they do, then they can help their team catch up to the other team or pull ahead of them.
Analysts, coaches, and fans determine a player’s skill by their ability to land free throw shots.
Because of that kind of pressure, players often take a few seconds to prepare themselves before a throw.
That might mean they dribble the ball a little.
It might mean they say a little prayer.
Whatever their prep is before a free throw, it can take time.
A few players, like Giannis Antetokounmpo, are notorious for taking their time during their free-throw prep.
They’re sometimes even hit with a penalty for going over 10 seconds.
Considering that free throws occur often in a game, that’s a lot of extra time added to a game.
NBA games last for a while due to free throws.
Unlike the NFL, the NBA doesn’t have a limit on how many substitutions they can do in a game.
NBA coaches take advantage of this.
They often stop the game to switch players to better support the type of strategy they’re using.
For example, towards the end of the game, it’s not uncommon for coaches to substitute players from offensive to defensive if the opposing team is currently on the offensive.
Then they’ll do the opposite when they’re the offensive team.
Substitutions themselves don’t take too long.
The coach gets the attention of the player that he’s pulling out and then the new player gets on the court.
Since teams can face penalties for having too many players on the court at the same time, this process is a bit extended since they have to wait for the player to make their way to the bench.
Only once they’re off the court can the new player enter.
Then the new player has to quickly relay information to the rest of the team that the coach gave him.
If the coach wants the same play to continue, then the new player might need a quick rundown of the team’s plan once he joins.
This all occurs in a few seconds.
However, the sheer number of substitutions will add time to the game.
Since many tend to occur in the final few minutes of the game, it can make those final few minutes drag on.
Substitutions add to the length of an NBA game.
Like substitutions, coaches can also call for a timeout.
This pauses the game and allows the coach to speak with his players.
In the NBA, teams are allowed to take seven timeouts.
There’s an additional rule that states teams cannot use more than four timeouts in the final quarter.
That’s because some coaches can take advantage of timeouts in the final quarter.
To upset a play or interrupt the opposing team’s rhythm, they might call a timeout.
To ensure this isn’t abused, the NBA established the four-timeout limit in the fourth quarter.
Timeouts fall under two categories.
Some last a full minute and others only last 20 seconds.
However, it’s rare for timeouts to actually be short.
In most cases, timeouts tend to last between three and four minutes.
There are a few reasons those timeouts extend beyond a minute or 20 seconds.
One of the reasons is that the timeout doesn’t officially begin until every player has left the court.
If someone is taking their time, then it adds a few more seconds to the game.
Commercial breaks also sometimes occur during this time.
When this happens, the game usually doesn’t start again until after the commercial break is over.
That alone can add a minute or two to their timeout time.
Players are also slow to leave a huddle.
This further allows the coach to shout some more instructions to them.
Once every player has returned to court, then the game can proceed.
Besides the length of timeouts, the sheer number of them also makes NBA games last longer.
Since both teams get seven timeouts, that means a single NBA game could have 14 timeouts total.
Granted, most coaches take advantage of a timeout by speaking with their team, too, when the other coach calls it.
However, they’re just as likely to call a timeout, too.
Timeouts add to the length of an NBA game.
7. Non-Shooting Fouls
While shooting fouls allow the fouled player to make some free throws, and make the game longer in that way, non-shooting fouls also extend the game.
A non-shooting foul occurs when a player who doesn’t have possession of the ball gets fouled.
This might be a strategic move or an accident.
When a non-shooting foul occurs, the penalty usually depends on who has possession of the ball.
For example, if an offensive player performed a non-shooting foul on a defensive player who didn’t have possession of the ball, then the offensive team loses possession of the ball.
It goes to the defensive team instead.
This is why non-shooting fouls also add to the length of an NBA game.
When a new team gets the ball, a few things can happen.
Sometimes a coach will call a timeout to talk about a new plan.
Sometimes the network will cut to a commercial while the teams set themselves up.
Both of these instances add time to the clock when they might not have occurred before if the foul hadn’t happened.
The team also takes some time to position themselves.
Non-shooting fouls can sometimes add a lot of time to the game.
If they occur often, then it can really extend the length of a game.
8. Half-Time Shows
That total of 48 minutes only includes the actual time that players play the game.
It does not include the half-time show.
As in the NFL, the NBA also has a half-time show.
At the end of the second quarter, players can return to the locker room where they can rest and go over the plan for the final two quarters.
During that time, most TV networks air a bunch of ads.
Those who are at the game in person, however, see something else.
They get to watch a half-time show.
Because basketball courts are indoors, the half-time shows don’t usually involve large-scale performances like in the NFL.
You won’t see huge stages, flyovers from jets, or fireworks, for example.
That said, the half-time shows are sometimes incredibly unique.
Sometimes you get performances from the team’s cheerleaders.
Other times, you get magic shows or musical performances by famous artists.
Now and then, the circus even gets involved.
You can never be sure what to expect at an NBA half-time show.
The shows can last anywhere from 10 minutes to the full 15 minutes.
It takes a bit of time to set up and remove any set pieces, too.
While half-time is only supposed to last for 15 minutes, it can sometimes push a bit longer if the performance has a lot of set pieces to move.
Half-time shows can add some time to an NBA game.
What Was The Longest NBA Game?
The longest game ever played in NBA history was between the Rochester Royals and Indianapolis Olympians in 1951.
The game lasted for an incredible 78 minutes.
It featured six overtime periods of five minutes each.
This doesn’t factor in ad breaks, timeouts, or even half-time either.
It was 78 minutes of pure gameplay.
Add everything else in and the game likely lasted beyond the three-hour mark.
NBA games are only supposed to last for 48 minutes split into 12 minutes per quarter.
However, due to commercial breaks, free throws, replays, timeouts, and several other factors, the game usually lasts a lot longer.
If you’re planning to watch an NBA game in person, then you should prepare yourself for a long game in the stands.