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.
- Valpo had the ball out of bounds at the Ole Miss baseline with 4.2 seconds to play and down by 2 points.
- 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.
- When he got above half court, Jamie Skyes threw the inbounds pass to Drew’s teammate at midcourt, their tall jumper Bill Jenkins.
- At this point Drew’s defender ran towards the pass (the error) rather than sticking with his man, Drew.
- Drew cut back toward his hoop heading toward the three point line.
- 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.
- 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:
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.