On Wednesday, the Celtics played the Raptors at TD Garden in Boston. Tipoff came at 7:40 in the evening, and the game rolled on until 9:49.

That’s a running time of two hours and nine minutes — not terribly long for an NBA game, which came in at an average of 2:15 last season. In fact, there were 12 games played on Wednesday, and the average length was 2:19, which includes overtime in the Wizards-Pacers game. Without that one, the average length was 2:17.

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At a glance, it would not seem the league has much of a problem with game length. In fact, among the major pro sports, no one is putting forth a tighter, quicker product. Despite repeated efforts to speed the action, baseball games have crossed the three-hour threshold and are not likely to get back under. NFL games ran an average of about 3:09 last year, and NHL games were a shade under two-and-a-half hours.

But credit the NBA for not necessarily measuring itself against other sports — the league understands that being satisfied with moving along faster than baseball is a bit like congratulating yourself for being a better driver than Justin Bieber. It’s a low bar.

Instead, the league is continuing to look for ways to shave minutes off its game times, primarily by tightening the windows given to broadcasters for breaks in play and by testing out time-saving rule changes in the D-League.

Last season, the D-League attempted to cut back on game length by reducing timeouts, in particular by cutting back from eight timeouts per team to seven. Through data provided by the D-League to Sporting News, we can take a look at how those changes worked out:

Average length of a D-League game, 2011-12: 2:12:23

Average length of a D-League game, 2012-13: 2:12:25

Average length of a D-League game, 2013-14: 2:12:43

OK, so that doesn’t look good — the D-League attempted to cut game length last year, but actually wound up increasing it by 18 seconds. But that’s because the league also introduced replay last season, which naturally, increases game length.

The D-League found that, if you remove time used for replay, the improvement in game length was encouraging: 2:11:29. Tinkering with timeouts, then, cut one minute, 14 seconds off the length of games when replay is removed from the equation.

That’s a start, and these are improvements we could see in the NBA soon. Combine that with more attention being paid to the length of timeouts, and the NBA could be the rare league that sets out to shorten games and actually accomplishes it.

“This year, the broadcasters, they’re told now — your lead-in to the commercials and your lead out, the window is here,” said vice president of referee operations Joe Borgia. “Two minutes is two minutes. The second horn at two minutes, get it back in play.”

The more the NBA can replicate the D-League time changes, the better. But, as the league’s president of basketball operations, Rod Thorn, said, there are some key differences that will probably keep the NBA from getting down to D-League game lengths


“It is a great resource to look at these things, but D-League has several differences,” Thorn told Sporting News. “This year they are not going to shoot free throws on the fifth one, they’re going to shoot on the sixth one. They get the ball in and out, they don’t have long timeouts. They put it in as quickly as they can. The game is different, because they don’t have big guys by and large, so the game is more out-court type game — their game is more that way. They are looking at ways to speed their game up and we will use what we can from that.”

On Wednesday, the D-League announced rule changes that could cut game length including, as Thorn said, allowing teams five fouls per quarter (rather than four) before opponents go into the bonus. That will cut out a few trips to the free-throw line. The league will also allow teams to advance the ball and substitute in the final two minutes of a game without using a timeout. A new rule will also attempt to cut back on fouling players without the ball in hopes of eliminating the yawn-inducing “Hack-a-Fill-in-the-Blank” strategy.

The NBA is trying to quicken the pace of its games, but bear in mind, the changes that the D-League put in last year resulted only in an improvement of less than two minutes per game, and that improvement was offset by replay. The NBA should streamline its replay process by having that process run through its new command center in New Jersey — but at the same time, the league is increasing the number of replay triggers on the books. So we could wind up with faster replays, but more of them, essentially offsetting any time gains that would be made.

In the preseason, spurred by some discussion coming out of the coaches’ meetings in Chicago, the NBA tried a 44-minute game. But don’t expect to see a change that drastic come to the league any time soon. The issue of game length is being poked at, but the NBA still is working only in the margins, experimenting with different approaches in the D-League. After all, there might be opportunities to tighten some things, but the league still has the shortest games out there.