How Long is a Basketball Game? (2021)


If you are getting ready to go to a basketball game, you may be concerned how long it will last. The length of a game can be impacted by several different factors, which we will discuss in this article. In general, how long is a basketball game?

The average length of an NBA game in 2018 was 2 hours and 11 minutes. Other levels of basketball will be shorter in game length, depending on level. Here is what you can expect:

LevelAvg. Length
NBA2:11 (2018)
FIBA~2 hours
Mens NCAA~2 hours+
Womens NCAA~2 hours
High School~1:45-2 hours
Youth~1 hour

In this article, we will discuss the lengths of these games in more detail along with the reasons for what makes these games last as long as they do.  Let’s discuss it level by level: How long do basketball games last?

How long is an NBA basketball game?

In 2018, the average NBA game lasted 2 hours and 11 minutes. Obviously, the length of an individual game can be impacted by many things, such as pace of play, amount of fouls called, in-game reviews, timeouts, and possibly overtime. In general, expect the NBA game you attend to last 2-2.5 hours, with rare exceptions lasting closer to 3 hours.

NBA games consist of 4 quarters that are each 12 minutes long.  There is a 2 minute break separating the 1st and 2nd quarters and the 3rd and 4th quarters.  There is also a 15 minute break, known as halftime, between the 2nd and 3rd quarters.  Each team is given 7 timeouts to use throughout the game, each of which last for 1 minute and 15 seconds (not all timeouts must be used). 

The pace of play in the NBA is very good thanks in large part to the shot clock. NBA games have a 24-second shot clock, which means teams have to shoot the ball in 24 seconds or less on every possession. The shot clock makes sure teams keep the game flowing and one team doesn’t try to hold onto the ball for long periods of time, which makes game more fun to watch.

If you are planning on going to a game in person, you will need to allow for more time than just the length of the game.  Parking is available at all stadiums, but you will need to plan on foot traffic when you get there, and allow time to pass through security before finding your seat. 

Also, you may want to buy concessions, jerseys, or souvenirs that will also take time.  Depending on the expected crowd, traffic to and from the game may also be heavy.

How long is a WNBA basketball game?

A WNBA game lasts approximately 2 hours.  The game consists of 4 quarters that are 10 minutes each.  There is also a 15-minute halftime break between the 2nd and 3rd quarters. 

The WNBA games have a 24 second shot clock just like the NBA does.  Each team is given 7 timeouts to use throughout the game.

In general, do not expect crowds to be as heavy at WNBA games in comparison to NBA games. This means you will not need to allow as much time for parking, getting through security, and finding your seat.

How long is a FIBA basketball game?

FIBA basketball games last approximately 2 hours. They consist of 4 quarters that are each 10 minutes long. For comparison, NBA quarters are 12 minutes in length, so these shorter quarters cause FIBA games to be a bit shorter in overall length than NBA games.

FIBA games have a halftime of 15 minutes between the 2nd and 3rd quarters.  Each team is give 5 regular timeouts throughout the game which is one less than the NBA allows.  The FIBA shot clock is 24 seconds.

How long is a men’s college basketball game?

Men’s college basketball games last on average slightly over 2 hours in length, but the overall game length can vary dramatically based on game flow, timeouts, and fouls.

Men’s college basketball has two halves that are 20 minutes each.  The game also has a halftime between these two periods that is 15 minutes long. 

It is important to note that although the college game is 8 game-minutes less than an NBA game, the real-time game length is only a couple minutes less on average than an NBA game.  This is due to the number of timeouts and how often teams shoot free throws during and at the end of the college game. 

In the NBA, team fouls reset at the end of each quarter. The college game (men’s) does not have quarters, and so team fouls last for an entire half. That means if a team gets in foul trouble early in a half, it last for an entire half instead of just a quarter (because they don’t have quarters). This means there can be a lot more foul shots, which slows the pace of play and increases the length of game, sometimes significantly.

Each men’s college team is given 4 timeouts per game.  Three of the timeouts are 30 seconds and one timeout is 60 seconds.  A team must use one of these timeouts in the first half or they lose it, as they are only allowed to carryover 3 timeouts into the second half. 

On top of these team timeouts and halftime, there are also 4 scheduled TV timeouts per half.  These TV timeouts are called once there is a stoppage of play after the 16, 12, 8, and 4 minute marks of each half.  If there isn’t a stoppage of play during one of these 4 minute stretches, the timeout is skipped and there will be one less TV timeout during that half.

Men’s college basketball games have a 30 second shot clock (source).  It used to be 35 seconds, but was reduced to get more game flow and more possessions in a game. 

As mentioned above, when teams get in foul trouble, it lasts the entire rest of the half instead of the just the rest of a quarter since men’s college games do not have quarters.  This has been a major complaint about men’s college basketball and a reason why the games last so long.  

Also, it is quite common for the end of the games to take a long time to play out if the team that is behind is fouling the other team in an attempt to make a late-game comeback.  When the game is on TV, these long drawn out end of game scenarios can make games carryover into other games and cause fans to miss portions of their team’s games.

It is also very common to have multiple in-game reviews late in a game when referees are allowed to go to the monitor to review certain calls to make sure the correct call was made. Although this protects the integrity of the game, it does slow down the length of game and can cause frustration for fans who feel the energy of the game drained during these in-game reviews.

How long is a women’s college basketball game?

Women’s college basketball game lasts approximately 2 hours in length.   The game consists of 4 quarters that are 10 minutes long. 

The women used to play halves that were 20 minutes each just like the men, but changed to the quarter format in 2015.  This format aligns with every other major basketball league. 

The game also has a halftime between the 2nd and 3rd quarters.  Each team is given 4 timeouts they can use throughout the game.  Just like the men’s game, one timeout is 60 seconds and the other 3 are 30 seconds long.  Unlike the men, there is no restrictions on when they can use them. 

There is one TV timeout under the 5 minute mark of each quarter.  That can change though, when one team calls a timeout before the 5 minute mark in a quarter, it will count as the TV timeout for that quarter. 

The shot clock is 30 seconds, just like the men’s college basketball game.  Since the game is broken up into quarters, when teams get in the free throw bonus it only lasts for the rest of that quarter.  This is a major reason why women’s college basketball games are on average shorter in length than men’s college basketball games.

How long is a high school basketball game?

High school varsity basketball games last approximately between 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours. High school junior varsity basketball games last about 1 hour and 30 minutes. High school game length can vary dramatically due to style of play, level of competition, and number of fouls called during a game.

High school varsity basketball games consist of 4 quarters that are 8 minutes long.  In some states, the varsity games are 4 quarters that are 10 minutes long.  In those states, the games will last about 20 minutes longer. 

The junior varsity games are 4 quarters as well, but they are only 6 minutes long in most states.  JV games are typically played on the same night at the same location as varsity games. 

High school basketball games do not have a shot clock. Some states implement mercy rules that turn the game clock into a running clock if one team gets a certain number of points ahead in the second half.  The rules are set by each state, so there are different criteria for each state and how they manage the clock. 

In some states, all you need to be is ahead by 30 points or more and it turns into a running clock, while some states it is as high as 40 points.  Some states still stop the clock during timeouts when the game is under the mercy rule, and some states never let the clock stop. 

How long is a junior high basketball game?

A junior high basketball game lasts about an hour and 30 minutes.  Junior high basketball games have 4 quarters that are typically 6 minutes long, although there are some states that last 8 minutes each. 

These games also have a halftime that lasts 10 minutes.  If games are tied at the end of regulation, they also play a 5 minute overtime period. Junior high basketball games do not have a shot clock.

There are also some states that have a mercy rule that is the same as the high school mercy rule for that state.  As discussed in the high school section, once a team gets up by a certain amount of points the game clock may become a running clock and only stop between quarters or timeouts depending on the state rules.

How long is a youth basketball game?

A youth basketball game usually takes approximately an hour to play. This can obviously vary dramatically based on the rules of the youth league.

Many youth league games consist of 2 halves that are 20 minutes each in length.  Unlike other levels of basketball, most youth leagues use a running clock, which means it never stops except for halftime and timeouts. 

When leagues use a running clock, the length of game becomes very easy to predict. Running clocks make for structured game lengths, which means games start on time, and makes things much easier for parents to plan for. If your youth league does not use a running clock, that is when the length of the game can vary dramatically.

Most leagues have a halftime that lasts for 10 minutes. This makes for a total of 50 minutes of game time plus halftime (20+10+20).  Each team is given 1 timeout per half and is usually 30 seconds, although it will likely last closer to a minute. 

So if each team calls both of their timeouts that will raise the time to roughly 54 minutes.  With kids, there will be a lost minute here or there as well, and that is where the the game will push close to an hour in length.

Youth games typically don’t have overtimes, so the games can end in a tie.  You may want to check with a youth league official or the team coach to see if the teams keep score and what they do for ties.  If they do keep score and they play overtime, games will obviously take longer.  Not only that, the other games may not start on time.

How long is a basketball game on TV?

If you are planning to watch a game on TV, there will likely be pre and post-game show that will add to the time of the telecast.  If you are interested in watching those, or if you are hosting a watch party and you expect that your guests will be interested, you will need to plan accordingly.  These pre and post-game shows are more common during playoff games.

Most pre-game shows start 30 minutes before the tip.  These shows will usually consist of analysts who break down the game and help you understand key statistics or matchups to watch out for during the game.  The post-game shows are usually shorter, like around 10-15 minutes, and will consist of interviews with players and the pre-game crew breaking down what happened and why it happened.

If you are going to watch a playoff game, you will want to plan for more time than you do for a regular season game.  The average playoff game lasts about 15-20 minutes longer than a regular season game does. 

In general, playoff games consist of more free throws, more timeouts, more in-game substitutions, and more in-game reviews for critical plays. This means you can expect average playoff games to last approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Steps to improve NBA game flow

Unlike other sports, basketball is fine with the length of the games they have as it is still one of the shortest games for major sports entertainment.  With that said, they have taken steps to keep the time down and improve the flow of the game, especially the last 2 minutes. 

Here is an article from the NBA back before he 2017-2018 season where the commissioner, Adam Silver, highlights some changes they have made to improve game flow.  They are also listed here:

  • Teams also have 7 timeouts that they can call, down from 9 in previous years.
  • All of these timeouts last 75 seconds, as there are no longer 2 minute or 20 second timeouts
  • Teams can use a maximum of 2 timeouts in the last 2 minutes of the game, if they have more than that they lose them.
  • Each quarter will have a mandatory two timeouts, one from each team, to keep teams from saving all their timeouts to the 4th quarter
  • If the game goes to overtime, each team will only get 2 timeouts instead of 3.
  • When shooting a free throw, the shooter has to stay within the three point line.  This is to keep shooters from wandering around between or before free throw attempts.
  • Standardize the length of halftime to start immediately after the completion of the 2nd quarter. 

These are not major changes to the game and shouldn’t have much effect on how long the game takes.  But it should help game flow, especially in the last two minutes, which helps fan engagement.

Joshua Lloyd

Joshua is lead content creator for basketball and golf at Sports Fan Focus. Golf is a passion of his and he enjoys both playing and watching golf in his spare time. To read more about Joshua, visit the SFF About Us page.

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