In Olympic competition, 12 teams are allowed to represent their country in each of the men’s and women’s tournament after qualifying for the Games. They play in two groups of six teams. After every team in a group plays each other, the top four go through to quarterfinals and semi-finals, with the two semi-final winners facing off for gold and silver and the two semi-final losers fighting for bronze.
There are three main ways of scoring points. A player scoring inside the three-point line scores two points, but if he scores outside the line, he picks up three points. In the case of fouls and penalties, players throw the ball from a specified spot straight in front of the basket, and only pick up one point.
Two referees patrol the sides of the court to monitor play, while a scorekeeper records and fouls and the timekeeper keeps track of stoppages, time-outs and the re-setting of the 24-second ‘shot clock’.
Basketball players aren’t allowed to hold the ball or use two hands while running, and must ‘dribble’ it by batting it from one hand to the floor and back again. If they hold the ball for more than two stops while moving, it is called ‘travelling’, and control of play is awarded to the opposing team.
Shots can be made by either throwing the ball from a distance in a high arc into the hoop, or getting under the basket and jumping up with the ball to spectacularly ‘slam dunk’ it down into the hoop.
Attacking players have five seconds to dribble, shoot or pass the ball. Their team has eight seconds to get the ball into the opposing half and 24 seconds to make a shot at the basket. If not, possession passes to the other side. Players only have three seconds in the ‘key’ zone directly below the basket. Once the ball is over the halfway line, they are limited to play in that half, and can’t go back to their own half. Attacking teams can use players as shields, or ‘screens’ to block defenders and allow other attacking players to maintain possession of the ball, but they aren’t allowed to push defenders. If they do, it’s a personal foul.
The team not in possession of the ball has to prevent the attacking team from scoring points and ultimately gain control of the ball themselves. By blocking or intercepting a throw from one player to another, they can pick up the ball and go on the attack. A missed shot, or rebound, also allows the teams to fight over control of the ball. There are two main types of defence strategy – zone defence, in which defenders focus on specific areas of the court, or man-to-man defence, in which each defender sticks to an attacker.
A team’s coach is allowed to ask for a 10-second timeout to give advice to his players or make changes. They are allowed to make one time-out in each of the first three quarters, two in the final quarter and one five-second time-out in each period of overtime.
If a shooting player is fouled, he gets a free throw from the penalty spot. Players from both teams can battle for the rebound if he misses. If a player makes five personal fouls, he is ejected from the game, and when a team commits four fouls in the same quarter, two free throws are awarded for each successive foul.