Stick To Defensive Fundamentals at the End of a Game

by Conor on December 8, 2008

One of the most memorable lessons George taught me in High School was how to play defense at the end of a game.  His exact rules or explanation may differ, but my interpretation was basically to stick to your normal defensive fundamental strategy on the final play of the game.

There is a reason that you are NOT taught to trap every possession,  to go for every steal, or to try to block every shot.  That reason is that it does not work a majority of the time, and it can often lead to fouls or even easier buckets from the other team.

The example that lead me to remember this was the last second basket in the recent Pacers-Lakers game.  If you watch the possession a few times, you see the Lakers running all over to try to double team the ball (away from the basket) and then getting confused on how to rotate after the pass is made.  Had they stuck with their guys and rotated properly, they probably could have prevented the wide open layup by Daniels.  Daniels did miss, but Kobe not boxing out led to the follow up tip.

These are skills that the Lakers stick with on every other play of the game, yet they dropped them as soon as time ran down to try to make the heroic steal or block.

If you go through other last second shot plays on Youtube, you see it over and over where a defender leaves his man to try to help and block a shot or stop the ball.

This was exactly the situation that caused George to teach me this in High School.  I had left my man to go try help by stopping the ball and putting my hands up to deter the shot.  Fortunately my guy was not passed the ball, as he would have had a wide open shot.  George explained me the situation afterward and I stuck with my defender from then on.  His key point however, was that I should not be leaving my man because I was guarding one of their best players.  Never leave the best shooter to go help on a worse player.  There are, I suppose, circumstances where going to double on the best player (ie. Kobe) would make sense.

Of course, an extremely smart coach would play to these tendencies.  One memory sticks out more than any other that took advantage of defenders going to help.  The play is remembered as Bryce Drew hitting the game winner in the 1998 NCAA tournament to help Valporaiso upset Ole Miss in the #3 versus #14 matchup.  Nobody remembers his defender leaving him open because of how the play set up.  Of course, the play was drawn up by his father and coach, Homer Drew.

  1. Valpo had the ball out of bounds at the Ole Miss baseline with 4.2 seconds to play and down by 2 points.
  2. Bryce Drew began the play at his three-point line on the ball side of the court.  He then ran up the sideline toward the ball.
  3. When he got above half court, Jamie Skyes threw the inbounds pass to Drew’s teammate at midcourt, their tall jumper Bill Jenkins.
  4. At this point Drew’s defender ran towards the pass (the error) rather than sticking with his man, Drew.
  5. Drew cut back toward his hoop heading toward the three point line.
  6. Jenkins was able to jump above the few defenders that had run toward him and the ball, and do a quick catch and pass over to Drew who was now waiting for a wide open three.
  7. Drew nailed it, dove on the floor for his teammates to pile on top of him, and immediately went down in history as a Cinderella story.

Here is George’s diagram of the play with his notes and own version:

Valpo Play

Had the Ole Miss defender merely stuck with his man, he could have probably stolen the pass or altered the shot.  Stick with your defensive rules on last second plays.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Pinky December 10, 2008 at 3:26 pm

Excellent points.

One beef, though. You say that Kobe should have boxed out.

From the video, Kobe went for the block on Daniels’ layup attempt and even altered it. Kobe wasn’t even on the ground long enough after landing to box out Murphy.

Someone else should have rotated and boxed out Murphy as Kobe was going up to block the reverse attempt.


Conor December 10, 2008 at 3:40 pm

Good point. It actually should have been Bynum crashing the boards for the rebound. Arize came in to rebound twice as fast and as hard as Bynum did.


J. Shuttlesworth December 10, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Good points I guess…

I still blame Kobe…just because he is Kobe…


Pinky December 10, 2008 at 4:58 pm

I’m also perplexed as to why the Indiana P.A. person decided to play Britney Spears to celebrate the buzzer beater. I mean, that would me my first choice too, but I didn’t think anyone else shared that sentiment.

“I know! If the Pacers win, let’s play ‘Womanizer’!”


shblay December 10, 2008 at 5:10 pm


hahaha, that’s so funny man! good observation!


Ben December 11, 2008 at 8:57 am

Have to disagree with your assessment of the Lakers-Pacers dying seconds. Who was going around trying to double team widly? Bynum switched out on a hard show to the ball screen, then when Fisher recovered Bynum went back to his man. The weakside defenders are heavily ball focussed during the play, leading Gasol to be slow coming over to defend the Pacers baseline cutter.

Once the pass goes in to Bynum’s man, Rasho loses control of the ball towards the FT line. Odom reaches in for the ball at this stage, but then wisely recovers to his man. The mistake now occurs that causes the breakdown – as Rasho loses the ball Gasol tentatively goes towards Rasho, but Bynum recovers agressively.

That leaves Pau in no man’s land not guarding Rasho and as he tries to get out of the key to avoid a defensive 3 seconds and heads the wrong way (give him the benefit of the doubt for why he went away from his player…looks more like he was just ball focussed and forgot about his player). Fisher on the same side as Daniels goes with his player and because Pau doesn’t rotate back to Daniels, MD is open for the lay-up.

I don’t see “…the Lakers running all over to try to double team the ball (away from the basket) and then getting confused on how to rotate after the pass is made.”

Rather, there’s one hard show on a ball screen, Odom reaches in for a loose ball and Gasol makes a half-effort to switch onto an open player. Had Pau aggressively taken Rasho and communicated to Bynum to switch (or just let Bynum recover, as losing the game on a Rasho FT line jumper is highly unlikely and preferred to what unfolded), things would likely have been different.

(This does go back a little to your point of not leaving a better player for a worse player!)

These things happen much more automatically as players get to know each other – I’m sure the Spurs follow their rules and know what team-mates will do naturally now after so many years. Gasol and Bynum have a short history together and I’m sure Lakers fans (which I am not) hope their understanding gets better.

In the end, the fumble from Rasho starts the breakdown, one of the best moves in basketball is to do the unexpected!!


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