Last Possession Plays

There are a number of considerations that the defensive team need to consider in a “last play” situation, such as:

  • How to defend back cuts;
  • Whether to play “help” defence or defend the 3 point shot;
  • Whether to guard the passer or deny receivers.

Often in a “last shot” situation, the defence will deny a pass, particularly when in an inbound situation and the offensive team has only 5 seconds to make the pass. However, to counter that, teams may look to make back door cuts.

(English) Here the defensive team is denying all passes.

5 moves to the perimeter and then cuts off a back-screen from 1 to the basket, which is designed to allow a lob pass to 5. Even if x1 and x5 switch, 5 may have a height advantage and people able to catch the pass.

(English) To combat this disadvantage, x4 can rotate across to intercept the lob pass, and x1 rotates onto 4.

(English) Another option to defend this situation is for:

  • x2 not to guard the passer but instead, face in court and deny cutters.
  • x5 sags into the key to defend any lob pass
  • x1 guards the initial cut by 5, with x2 denying any pass to 1
  • with x5 in the key to defend a lob pass, x4 can move to a denial position on 4.

(English) Another consideration for the defensive team is whether or not to have a player defend the passer. Above is an example, where a team may not defend the passer, which can be effective to either deny a particular player the ball (as above) to enable a defender to remain in the safety position.

However, there are two particularly memorable examples where teams opted not to defend the passer from the baseline and the offensive team were able to make a full court pass, which was caught and the subsequent shot was made.

In the gold medal game of the 1972 Olympics and in the Eastern Regional Final in the 1992 NCAA Championship, the offensive team (Russia and Duke University respectively) had the ball on the baseline, with barely seconds left in the game and were 1 point behind.

(English) On both occasions the defensive team (USA1 and University of Kentucky) did not defend the passer, but instead had two players back guarding the basket.

The offensive team made a full court pass, which was caught (by Sergei Belov for Russia and Christian Laettner for Duke), who then made a shot to win the game!

Whilst it is a matter for speculation only, it is perhaps unlikely that the passes could have been thrown as accurately as they were if the defender (particularly a tall defender) was standing in front of the passer.

(English) Most teams in playing “man to man” defence, have defenders move to a position on the court, where they can help to defend against dribble penetration. However, a last shot situation may require a change to that tactic.

(English) In this situation x1 and x3 are on the “split line” and are able to assist to defend if 2 beats x2. In that situation, x3 will rotate across to stop the dribbler and x1 will rotate down. If the ball is passed to 3, x1 will move to defend.

However, assume that the offensive team is 3 points down with seconds left. By having x1 and x3 in a position where they can help against penetration, it is likely that 3 would shoot a 3 point shot.

(English) Instead, if x3 did not move to the “split line” but instead stayed on the perimeter to defend 3. It is unlikely that 3 will get an open 3 point shot. 2 may beat x2 on the dribble, however, a successful lay-up would only be worth 2 points, resulting in a 1 point loss if this was the last possession.

Obviously, x2 would defend and attempt to contain any dribble penetration (and stop 2 from shooting), however varying from the normal rule may be required in response to the game situation.

(English) The last play in the Olympic final was replayed a number of times - on the last occasion the inbounds pass was not defended.