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How long does the average NBA game take?

Every basketball game has its own element of fun, but how long is the average game? Basketball games vary in length depending on the level of play, but the NBA structure is set in stone. Although the NBA has allotted 48 minutes of game time (excluding overtime) the actual time it takes for an average NBA game may be longer from start to finish. 

How long does the average NBA game take? 48 minutes of NBA basketball may sound like a quick game, but it is indeed much longer. An NBA game is divided into 4 quarters of 12 minutes each, with breaks between each quarter and a longer halftime. The game lengths are the same whether it is a regular season game or playoff game, but in case there is overtime, the games can become longer, with each overtime period being 5 minutes long until there is a winner. Overall in terms of real time, an average NBA game can be about 2 to 3 hours long. 

Why is an NBA game so much longer in real time? There are quite a few reasons as to why NBA games are longer in real time than the ‘48 minutes’ of designated game time. In a normal regulation game, each team has 7 timeouts (divided into 30 second and full 75-second timeouts) that they can use but there are also official TV timeouts that are designated for commercials. While players and referees would like to try to keep playing continuously, there are some unavoidable stoppages for injuries, out-of-bounds balls, fouls, technicals, shot clock vs game clock issues, play reviews and coaches challenges. Moreover, there is about a 2 minute 30 seconds break between the first and second quarter as well as between the third and fourth quarter. 

Besides normal regulation NBA games, there are other types of games that may vary in game lengths. For example, a nationally televised game is a few minutes longer because of longer TV commercial lengths. The breaks between quarters are increased from 2 minutes 30 seconds to 3 minutes 30 seconds. Games that are blowouts may finish earlier since both teams want to go home, while games that are closer may take longer since coaches will make sure to use all of their timeouts (for substitutions or strategic timeouts) and due to intentional fouling to stop the clock. This is the same reason why NBA Playoff games are longer; they have longer commercial breaks and the games are generally closer in score and thus can be drawn out. 

Nothing is as exciting as overtime games in the NBA, with fans getting to enjoy more NBA action. Although each overtime period is only 5 minutes of game time, these are always longer (20 minutes or more) because of the commercial break between regulation and overtime, as well as additional timeouts. Since these games were already close, intentional fouling also comes in as an additional factor. 

How long was the longest NBA game?

To date, the longest game in NBA history was 78 minutes of gameplay which included 6 overtimes between Indianopolis Olympians and Rochester Royals in 1951. More recently, there have been multiple 4 overtime games in 2019. The first example was between the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks (March 1st, 2019) where the Bulls ultimately won 168-161. The game lasted a whooping 3 hours and 35 minutes, with players absolutely exhausted, as fans rejoiced. 

The most recent 4 overtime game actually came in the Western Conference Semifinals on May 3rd, 2019 between Jamal Murray’s Denver Nuggets and Damian Lillard’s Portland Trailblazers. It was the longest game in NBA playoff history (68 minutes) where Nikola Jokic and CJ McCollum both played 60+ minutes for their respective teams. The NBA’s app famously went viral when many people noticed that the app could not log in stats after the 60 minute mark and that the game essentially ‘broke the app’. The Blazers won the game at home to close the long, entertaining night in a nailbiter 140-137.

How long is halftime? After 2 quarters of play, there is a 15-minute halftime break. Teams go into the locker rooms for rest and gameplan readjustment discussions with their coaches. This can be a great time to talk strategy as well as deal with details that may have been hard to communicate in the loud arena. Some players also use this time to change shoes, get treatment, or begin an early warmup before the start of the second half. Steph Curry is well known for reading hate comments on Twitter if he is having a bad game to fuel himself once he gets back on the court. While players are in the locker rooms, the fans are entertained in the meantime. There are fan competitions, dance shows, animal trick shows, acting plays and many more forms of entertainment. This has also become a great time for fans to get some snacks or use the restroom without having to miss any gameplay. 

In conclusion, there are many factors that can affect how long an average NBA game lasts, with each having its unique circumstances. Although the NBA has tried to take initiatives to speed up the end of games, such as limiting teams to 2 timeouts in the final 3 minutes of the game, there is little that can be done to alter the current averages of different games. Although the game time is 48 minutes, it can last about 2 and a half hours on average.