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