How Long Is an NBA Game?

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NBA games are a lot of fun to watch. However, the question lies, how long is an NBA game, and what time does the clock start and stop at? All these questions have answers.

How Long Is an NBA Game?

NBA games last around two to two and a half hours. This includes time-outs, halftime breaks, free throws, excessive replays, and more.

The NBA game is divided into four 12-minute quarters, with the clock stopping at certain points during each quarter to allow for substitutions or an infraction. 

Let’s dive in to learn more about the NBA game.

Digital screen board on a basketball court

How Was NBA Born?

In 1949, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and National Basketball League (NBL) merged to form a new league. The new league was given the name NBA (The National Basketball Association). 

The first game in NBA history took place on November 1, 1946, between the Toronto Huskies and New York Knickerbockers. The final score was 68-66, with the Knicks emerging as winners. The game had a massive turnout, drawing more than 7000 spectators.

The NBA finals are one of the most popular sports in America, with an average viewership of millions of people per year since 2002. In 2017, it was 20.4 million. Today, over 40 million people from all around the world tune in to watch NBA matches every single week.

How Is the NBA Speeding up Games?

There are several ways that the NBA is speeding up games. 

By Reducing Media Time-Outs (Time-Outs For Television)

Commercials are one thing that adds length to the game. The total amount of commercials shown during an NBA Game is reducing over the next few years. This reduces downtime during an NBA game and keeps everything moving smoothly.

Shot Clock Rules and Pre-Game Handshakes

Another way they’re doing this is with their new shot clock rules. You might notice how faster teams currently try to shoot to avoid holding onto the ball for too long. The NBA has also banned pre-game handshakes, which take up even more time. 


Finally, they changed their time-out rules to only call three-team time-outs per game (instead of five). This keeps players focused on playing basketball and not huddling with coaches during time-outs.

How Is the NBA Structured?

In the NBA structure, 30 teams are split into two conferences of 15. Each conference includes three divisions, making for six division winners and nine playoff qualifiers throughout the season.

The Eastern Conference has Atlantic, Central, and Southeast Divisions. The Western Conference has Southwest, Northwest, and Pacific Divisions.

Basketball game

Every team plays 82 regular season matches, 41 each home and away, with the team that accumulates four wins first gets crowned as NBA champions for their season

The four teams that finish second, third, fourth, and fifth in their conferences go on to play against one another in a series of playoff matches. This is before they are whittled down until just two remain for an epic showdown. 

What Is a Shot Clock?

The shot clock is a timer that limits the amount of time each team can possess the ball. It keeps track of how much playing time has elapsed during each half. It begins once one team gains control over the ball to move it down the court toward their basket.  

Once this happens, 24 seconds begin ticking off on the scoreboard clock. If a player doesn’t shoot the ball before time runs out, it is a turnover, and possession of the ball changes over to the other team.

The shot clock was first introduced in the 1954-1955 season when NBA games were at the time played at an average pace of fewer than 70 shots per game, compared with well over 100 today. 

Positions of an NBA Game

There are five positions in an NBA game. They include:

  • Center
  • Power forward
  • Small forward
  • Guard
  • Point guard


The center usually works closest to the basket, typically guarding their opponent under the hoop during shots taken by both teams. They are also responsible for making rebounds and blocks on defense and drawing charges when defending against a player that has received an offensive foul. 

Power Forward

A power forward will normally work along either side of the court’s key, helping the center maintain a strong defense. In addition, they are often called upon to rebound and score and draw charges on offense. 

Televised NBA game

Small Forward

A small forward generally works along the outside half of the three-point line opposite their power forward during play. They have an important role in offense and defense, being called upon to grab rebounds and score from the perimeter and inside the court.


Guards work along each side of their team’s key or even behind it when there is a lot of opposition pressure. They are often required to shoot from beyond the three-point line and handle the ball. Guards make assists on offense and play tight defense to stop their opponents. 

Point Guard

The point guard is responsible for bringing the ball down the court after a rebound or steal, starting plays by passing it off to teammates. They are also tasked with calling out plays during time-outs and dribbling past opponents when possession of the ball.

Related Questions

Where Is the Shot Clock Located in an NBA Game?

The clock in most areas is between the baskets above both ends of the court. The shot clock can also sometimes be on scoreboards

How Long Is an NCAA Game?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) governs most sports that colleges and universities play. The time of college basketball games has been set at two halves, each lasting 20 minutes.

How Long Is a Women’s College Basketball Game? 

Women’s games are much shorter than men’s, each with ten-minute quarters. 


If you’re gearing up for a night of NBA action, it is important to know how long the games will be. In general, an NBA game lasts around two and a half hours. 

Tim Frechette is an avid athlete, having played sports like soccer and basketball his entire life. He brings a wealth of athletic knowledge to his writing.