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The rules of basketball

Basic basketball rules explained

Need to brush up on the rules of basketball? Check out our guide to the key basketball rules to help you get a grip of the rules, including game time limits and infringements.

The rules of basketball

Length of a basketball game

  • The basketball game consists of four quarters of 10 minutes each.
  • Teams play one-way for two quarters, the other way for the next two.
  • There is a two-minute interval between the first and second period, and also between the third and fourth period, with 15 minutes for half-time.
  • Coaches can call two one-minute timeouts at anytime during the first half and three timeouts in the second half.
  • The clock stops when the referee's whistle blows. It stays stopped if free throws are being taken and starts again when the ball touches a player on court — so you get a full 40 minutes of actual basketball play.

Time limits in basketball

There are also time limits on a player in possession of the basketball with five main rules:

24-second rule

After a team gains possession of the ball, they have 24 seconds to shoot. Possession is handed to the other team if they fail to do so.

8-second rule

When a player has the ball in their own half or ‘backcourt’, they have 8 seconds to move the ball over the half way line into the ‘frontcourt’. Otherwise they will lose possession.

5-second rule

A closely guarded player holding the ball has 5 seconds to either pass or advance the ball toward the hoop. When called, possession of the ball goes to the opposite team.

3-second rule

A player can only be in the opposition's rectangular ‘key’ area under the basket for 3 seconds. A foul will be called if the player does not leave within those 3 seconds.

Types of basketball infringement

Basketball players can be penalized for making an infringement or foul on another player, with the loss of possession or the award of a ‘free throw’.

  • Personal foul — this is when illegal body contact occurs between opposing players. Common examples are charging, blocking, holding, illegal guarding, pushing, illegal screening, hand checking, and illegal hand use. A personal foul results in either a player taking free throws or a team losing possession of the ball.  
  • Charging — called by the official when an attacking player moving with the ball runs straight into a defender.
  • Blocking — a defensive player may not stand in the way or ‘block’ a dribbling player unless that defender has established a legal guarding stance. 
  • Holding — this is when personal contact is made with an opponent to slow their movement. 
  • Illegal guarding — when a defending player bumps into an opponent from behind. 
  • Pushing — this is exactly as it sounds, and applies even when a player does not have possession of the ball.
  • Illegal screening — an attempt to slow down or stop an opponent who does not have control of the ball.
  • Hand checking — when a defending player uses their hands to grab or slow an opponent.
  • Illegal hand use — when contact is made on an opponent when they are attempting to release the ball.
  • Other types of basketball infringement include:
  • Technical foul — these are awarded against any player or coach for unsportsmanlike behavior such as swearing or arguing with a referee. This leads to at least one free throw and possession of the ball. If a player or coach receives two technical fouls, he or she is removed from the game.
  • Persistent fouling — this can lead to a player being removed from the game. If a player commits five fouls they must leave the game permanently, but can be substituted.
  • Team foul   this is called when a team has committed five fouls of any kind in any one period. The opposing team is awarded with two free throws.
  • Violation — a violation of the rules covers such things as an illegal dribble or not releasing the ball within the specified time limits. Possession is handed to the opposition.
  • Backcourt violation — an attacking player with the ball may not cross back over the half-way line once he or she has advanced the ball beyond it.

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