NBA Quarter Times: What’s Up With Those 12 Minute Quarters?

Have you ever noticed that NBA games take much longer than high school or college basketball games? 

The main reason NBA games take so long is that the quarters last 12 minutes each. That equates to 48 minutes of game minutes for NBA contests, which is 20% longer than college basketball’s 40-minute allotment.

During a regular NBA game, a basketball team plays four 12-minute quarters. Other sports, such as hockey and soccer, have different arrangements of time and space for a match. Find out how NBA quarter times were determined here.

How Many Minutes is an NBA Quarter?

An NBA quarter is 12 minutes in length and four quarters are played per game. This is the longest quarter length of any basketball league. Since its inception, the NBA has always played 12-minute quarters.

Why The NBA Decided on 12 Minute Quarters

The NBA has always played 12 minute quarters because their goal is for the entire game to take a little over two hours. The NBA’s purpose behind 12 minute quarters is to give their fans a more enjoyable game-watching experience. In other words, the NBA wants to make sure the fans get their money’s worth.

When basketball was first invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, the original rules called for two 15-minute halves of play. When the NBA came into existence back in the 1940s, its executives knew that fans would be disgruntled with such a quick game. That’s when the NBA decided to implement four 12-minute quarters instead of two 15-minute halves.

Is The NBA The Only League with 12 Minute Quarters?

Yes, the NBA is the only basketball league with 12 minute quarters. FIBA games follow a four-quarter format but the quarter lengths are only 10 minutes long. NCAA Men’s basketball games consist of two 20-minute halves while NCAA Women’s basketball games have four 10-minute quarters.

The WNBA also follows the four 10-minute quarters format. The majority of high school basketball games consist of four 8-minute quarters. This means that NBA games are 20% longer than WNBA, NCAA, and FIBA games. NBA games are a whopping 50% longer than high school basketball games!

How Long Does The Average NBA Quarter Take?

Though NBA quarters consist of 12 minutes of game time, the average quarter takes 25-30 minutes to complete. This is due to all of the fouls, free throws, timeouts, and other stoppages of play that occur during a basketball game.

How Many Quarters Are There in a Single Game?

All NBA games are 4 quarters long. The only exception occurs when both teams are tied at the end of regulation. When this happens, the teams must play an overtime period that is 5 minutes long. The teams must play an endless amount of 5-minute overtime periods until a winner is declared.

How Many Minutes Are in a Full NBA Game?

Each NBA game consists of 48 total minutes of playing time. If the teams are tied at the end of the fourth quarter, a 5-minute overtime period must be played.

How Long Does The Average NBA Game Take?

The majority of NBA games take about two and a half hours to complete. That sounds hard to believe when you consider that the total game minutes is only 48. However, you have to take into consideration all of the stoppages of play and the 15-minute halftime break.

What Happens in Between Quarters?

After the first and third quarters, teams receive a break that is two and a half minutes long. If the game is on national TV, the breather gets extended to three and a half minutes. Halftime takes place after the second quarter and is a much longer break of 15 minutes.

Players use these breathers between quarters to rest, drink some water or a sports drink, and use towels to wipe the sweat off their heads and hands. Coaches utilize the breaks between quarters to discuss new in-game strategies with the team. You will usually see a coach drawing up a play on his clipboard while the team is huddled around him.

TV networks try to capitalize on the brief breaks between the quarters. This is the ideal time to run commercials and networks often charge a higher price to their sponsors for these precious time slots.

Halftime lasts 15 minutes, in which the teams head back to the locker room to rest and strategize for the second half. Then both teams head back to the court to warm up again with a quick shoot around.

Other Time Related Parts of The Game

Here are a few variables that can affect how long an NBA game will last.

Shot Clock

In the NBA, the shot clock has always been 24 seconds. Any time a team gains possession of the ball, the shot clock begins its countdown. The team with the ball has 24 seconds to shoot the ball and at least hit the rim before a shot clock violation is called. This results in a turnover and the ball being given to the opposing team.

The NBA implemented the shot clock in 1954 to increase scoring and provide a more entertaining experience for basketball fans. Before the shot clock, teams could simply hold the ball for as long as they wanted. This led to some dull, low-scoring games in the early days of the league. Thankfully, the shot clock rule has led to more excitement, more offense, and higher TV ratings for the NBA!


During NBA games, each team is allotted seven timeouts per game. Each timeout is exactly 1 minute and 15 seconds long. If the game goes to overtime, each team is allowed to take two more timeouts. In the fourth quarter, teams cannot take more than four timeouts.

Two mandatory timeouts must be taken during each period of play. If the clock ticks below the seven-minute mark and neither team has taken a timeout, a mandatory timeout will be taken at the next dead ball and given to the home team. If the clock gets below three minutes with no timeouts taken, a second mandatory timeout is taken and charged to the road team.


Fouls can slow down a basketball game in a big way! Think about it. Each time a foul is called, the game clock stops. 

If the foul that is called results in free throws, the game clock is stopped for quite a while. Teams often foul late in the game to try to extend the game with the hopes that the other team will miss lots of free throws.

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Mike Noblin

Mike has been involved with basketball for over 30 years as a player, coach, and bettor. He has a degree in Sports Psychology and enjoys following both the NBA and College Basketball on a nightly basis.