Can Basketball Games End in a Tie?

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When two equally skilled teams are matched up on a basketball court, the likelihood of ending up with an even score when the final buzzer sounds is pretty high, but can basketball games end in a tie? The short answer is yes, but it’s extremely rare. And it’s highly unlikely for a basketball game to end in a tie the higher the level of competition.

What are Basketball Overtime RulesWhat are Basketball Overtime Rules?

There’s generally no place for a draw in basketball. From grassroots high school games to the bright lights of the NBA and WNBA, a victor almost always emerges. It’s either sink a game-winner or battle in the electrifying theater of ‘overtime.’

When the teams are stuck in a deadlock at the final buzzer, the game goes into an extra period of play called overtime. This adrenaline-fueled scenario provides an opportunity for one team to outscore the other and snatch that much-desired victory!

And if the overtime period ends in another tie, then it’s off to another overtime period until a winner emerges when the clock runs out. It’s essentially an endless loop of play until a clear victor emerges at the end of overtime.

Overtime periods are generally similar in structure to regular periods, except they’re typically shortened. This means team fouls are reset, and personal fouls are carried over. However, since it’s a shortened period, it takes fewer team fouls to get into the penalty. In the NBA, for example, it takes just three team fouls to get into the penalty during overtime.

How Ties are Resolved in Basketball GamesHow Ties are Resolved in Basketball Games?

Ties are resolved via overtime in most basketball games, especially in the higher levels. However, there are differences depending on the level of play.

High School Basketball

In high school basketball, games that swing into overtime typically get an additional four minutes. However, it can change depending on the rules of the basketball organization.

Technically, a tied high school game can go into an infinite number of overtime as long as players are still willing to play. However, if court availability is an issue, game officials may declare the game a tie.

Here are other key information in overtime rules for high school basketball:

  • Team fouls are not reset
  • Each team gets a 60-second timeout per overtime period

College Basketball

  • In the realm of college basketball, where future stars are born, the drama extends even further with a five-minute overtime period. And because court availability isn’t an issue for college games, games can theoretically go on an unlimited number of overtimes.
  • Unspent timeouts during the second half are carried over to overtime
  • Each team gets an additional 30-second timeout per overtime period
  • Team fouls are carried over from the second half


On the NBA and WNBA court, where legends are made and broken, the teams lock horns once more in a five-minute overtime. The fascinating part? Just like in college basketball, there’s no cap to the overtime cycles, and each one lasts five minutes long.

  • Each team gets just two 30-second timeouts per overtime period
  • Team fouls are reset
  • Personal fouls are carried over from regulation time
  • The coach’s challenge is also carried over if left unused in the fourth quarter


International ballers under FIBA rules aren’t immune either, facing five-minute overtime blocks.

  • Team fouls are reset at the start of each overtime period
  • Each team only gets one timeout per overtime period

Examples of Ties that Happened in BasketballExamples of Ties that Happened in Basketball

Although ties and overtime aren’t rare in the NBA, we’ve had several extraordinary games that pushed the envelope so much that the officials had to declare a tie. Here are two instances when this happened:

Winston-Salem State vs. Johnson C. Smith (NCAA Division II)

With the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, one of the players decided to attempt a full-court shot that hit a large light fixture mounted on the gym’s ceiling. Officials tried to clear the court of debris, but due to the severity of the damage, they were forced to call the game a tie as the risk of injury was just too high to tolerate.

Both teams decided to play an overtime period two days later, which led to Johnson C. Smith’s victory. In essence, the game didn’t really end in a tie; it was simply interrupted and finished at a later date.

Planeview High vs. Augusta High

It was an exciting game between Planeview High and Augusta High in 1949. The teams were exchanging leads late in the fourth quarter. Eventually, Augusta would be able to find a way to a 28-27 lead at the end of regulation.

However, a scoring error discovered by the officials after the game led to one point being shaved off from Augusta. And since the Augusta coach was no longer keen on putting his players back on the court, the game was called a tie.

What is the Longest NBA Overtime Game in HistoryWhat is the Longest NBA Overtime Game in History?

While the NBA has yet to record a game that ends in a tie, there are quite a few games that might as well have ended in a stalemate just for the effort that each team put into winning. They were true battles of wills that were exciting to witness.

So, here are a couple of the most extraordinary basketball games that went the distance:

Indianapolis Olympians vs. Rochester Royals (1951)

Pouring over the annals of NBA history, one epic duel stands out—the 1951 match between the Indianapolis Olympians and the Rochester Royals, stretching over six overtimes to create league history. However, since it’s the pre-shot clock era, the game was relatively low-scoring, with the game ending in a 75-73 victory for the Olympians.

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Seattle Supersonics (1989)

In the modern NBA, with the shot clock in place, however, scoring would go up significantly. In a Bucks vs. Sonics game in 1989, for instance, the game ended in a slim 155-154 victory for the Milwaukee-based team despite playing one less overtime period than the 1951 Olympians vs. the Royals game. This game is still highly regarded as one of the most exciting regular-season games ever.

Chicago Bulls vs. Phoenix Suns (1993 NBA Finals)

But if you really want to feel the absolute adrenaline rush of a highly competitive overtime period in the NBA, it’s got to be in a Finals overtime. One standout game was between Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the 1993 Game 3 Finals. The game went on for a record of three overtime periods, with neither one of the two superstars refusing to accept defeat. In the end, Barkley’s will prevailed, winning against the Bulls with a 129-121 advantage despite a 44-point performance by Jordan.

Wrapping Things Up: Can Basketball Games End in a Tie?

So, can a basketball game end in a tie? In some lower-level basketball tournaments where external factors can drastically affect the game, it can be a possibility, especially if there isn’t much on the line.

However, from the collegiate ranks and beyond, the courts always demand a winner. In these levels, venues are typically equipped to handle any sort of external influence that can affect the game and there are enough people involved to ensure that the game goes on until there is a clear winner. In these situations, it is impossible for a basketball game to end in a tie.

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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