DunkOrThree > How Many Periods are in Basketball?

How Many Periods are in Basketball?

Publish Date:22.03.2024
Fact checked by: Jackson T. Pierce

Basketball is a structured game broken up into various parts. There’s a certain amount of time, and that time is divided into sections. A typical NBA game lasts a total of 48 minutes. Those minutes are split into two 24 minute halves, and further into four 12 minute quarters/periods.

Breaking up the game in that way is important for a few reasons. It allows time for the players to rest, give teams a chance to strategize, and make for a more enjoyable viewing experience.

That’s why every level uses quarters, even though the number of periods and time of those periods differs in each one. Going over how many periods there are in basketball, and looking at why they exist, is key to getting the game as a whole.

The Basics of Basketball Periods

As in most sports, a quarter in basketball is one slice of the game denoted by pauses at either end. When a quarter starts, teams play back-and-forth only pausing for natural game stops like out-of-bounds, fouls, and substitutions.

Once the quarter ends, both teams take a break, the game commonly goes to a commercial break, and coaches check-in or strategize with their players. That gives everyone time to rest, and allows coaches to check in with players or come up with plays.

It’s also better for the crowd or audience, as getting a break helps keep the game more organized and easier to follow. A straight 48 minutes of basketball, besides being incredibly tiring for the players, would also never give the people watching time to breathe.

Such factors influence how many periods are in a basketball game because the more intense the level, or the more people watching, the longer they tend to be.

Quarters in NBA Basketball

As mentioned, how many quarters are in a basketball game differ from league to league. In the NBA, there are four quarters that give the game a structured flow and easy-to-follow rhythm. They are each twelve minutes long, and go until time runs out (only pausing for stoppages).

The league also allocated 2 minutes and 30 seconds for the time between the first and second/third and fourth quarter. The first two and second two are also separated by a break known as half time, which lasts 15 minutes.

The only exception to the above rule occurs if the game is played on national television. In such circumstances, the breaks last 3 minutes and 30 seconds. That gives more time for commercials and gives the networks a bit more flexibility.

Though the league has undergone many changes throughout its history, how many quarters are in an NBA basketball game has stayed consistent since its inception. They are as much a part of the sport as anything else.

Quarters in International Basketball (FIBA)

The NBA is the largest and most popular basketball organization on the planet, but it’s far from the only one. The international basketball organization FIBA also follows suit with four periods, but does so in a slightly different way.

Rather than having four periods of twelve minutes, they have four periods of ten. That distinction makes the game slightly shorter, which means scores are a bit lower and strategy is a bit tighter. However, it has a minimal impact on the overall strategy or team gameplans.

That difference exists because FIBA doesn’t have as many timeouts for commercials as the NBA. That small discrepancy makes the game faster, which in turn leads to less stoppage and creates a more fluid product.

College and High School Basketball Periods

As with FIBA, college and high school also have their own rules for quarters and quarter length. How many periods there are at lower levels of basketball differs slightly depending on the league and intensity of the game.

In high school, there are four quarters that last 8 minutes. Half time is roughly 10 minutes, and the time between quarters is a few minutes. Those splits aren’t as structured or as concrete as more professional leagues, which allows for a bit more wiggle room.

College basketball has the most unique structure of any league. Rather than going with the tradition of four quarters with four breaks, it’s split into two 20 minute halves. There are only two large periods in order to create a much faster game and limit general downtime.

Understanding Overtime Periods

When looking at the above sections, how many periods there are in basketball depends on the league. However, every level of basketball is linked through the use of a bonus period known as overtime.

In basketball, when the four quarters end whoever has the most points wins. If both teams have the same amount of points when the quarters end, the game goes into an extra period known as overtime.

As with the other quarters, there is a 2 minute 30 second break (3:30 for national televised games) before overtime. It lasts 4 minutes for high school basketball and goes for 5 in both NCAA and the NBA.

Unlike how there can only only be so many periods, a game can have an unlimited amount of overtime periods. If both teams are still tied when overtime runs out, another one gets played. It has the same breaks as the previous overtime and lasts just as long. Such breaks keep getting played until one team wins.


Understanding how many periods there are in a basketball game is critical to understanding the way the sport works. Quarter helps shape the game, provide more structure, and make it easier to follow. They also provide key breaks for players and give coaches more time to plan.

A basketball game going nonstop would be hard to follow and be much harder on the players. The periods have always existed in the sport, and do a great job of adding depth to the game. Knowing how many quarters there are in basketball is a big part of getting the sport as a whole.

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