Drills and plays to win in the game’s final seconds
The final seconds of a tightly contested game show the character and preparedness of your team. Typically, chaos ensues and a player fires up a shot from a spot on the floor that has little chance at success. Many times, it almost seems like coaches depend on luck or a fluke to get an open shot. How many times have you watched a team in a last-second situation not even attempt a shot before the buzzer?
After dedicating hours of practice time throughout the year to offense, defense and fundamentals, it’s unfortunate that end-of-game situations often are forgotten. But clearly, they’re critical. If you’re a high school coach with 32 minutes of game time, why only have your squad ready for 31 minutes and 45 seconds?
In the deciding seconds of a close game, the tempo kicks up a notch. Possessions change rapidly, and players’ abilities become more of a deciding factor in the outcome than being fundamentally prepared by the coach. Don’t depend on luck — have your team ready to play from the opening tip to the final horn.
Take back control
To gain control at the end of a game, have your players first run through the following three drills. These drills simulate a game situation with time clocks, competition, and winners and losers. There’s also rewards and penalties. Preparing within the parameters of practice — when you control the pace, level of learning and understanding — puts your team in a better position to win close games.
DIAGRAM 1: Solo Drive Drill. Incorporating transition in the full court is important to drilling your players in end-of-game situations. In the Solo Layup Drill, set up the players according to the diagram. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and O are a group, as are X1, X2, X3, X4, X5 and X. 1 defends X1 in the half-court. X1 tries to score against 1’s aggressive defense.
Once 1 gains possession of the ball (after a rebound, steal or made shot), 1 immediately speed-dribbles down the court. Also, when 1 gains possession, start a nine-second shot clock to simulate the amount of time the player has to drive the length of the court. As 1 speed-dribbles down the court, he also is dribbling and weaving around the players interspersed throughout the court. Be sure to emphasize that the defenders spread around the court are primarily “dummy” defenders. These defenders should not try to affect the outcome of the drill. Only X5 and X play a defensive role, which we’ll examine later.
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1 eventually drives the distance and shoots a layup. To make the drill more realistic, have X5 and X use football blocking pads to bump and harass the shooter. 1 takes the layup, grabs the ball, and puts up a second shot to reinforce the importance of quick put-backs.
When the second shot is taken, all players move up one spot. X2 (who has a ball) dribbles toward the original basket with 2 defending. As soon as 2 gains possession, the full-court process begins again.
Keep score with each layup earning two points and each put-back scoring one point. The team with the most points wins, and the losing team is penalized.
DIAGRAM 2: Solo Pitch Drill. This drill is set up almost exactly like the Solo Layup Drill. 2 defends X2 in the half-court. When 2 obtains possession, 2 dribbles through the pseudo defenders. 2’s final two teammates (5 and O) start at the 10-second line in the front court. 5 and O sprint to the corners. X5 steps up to defend 2’s dribble penetration. 2 must pass to either 5 or O for a 3-pointer.
After the shot, 2 and the 3-point shooter (in this case 5) follow the shot to have a chance at a put-back. Award three points for the 3-pointer and one point for the put-back. Once again, reward the winning team. Set a game clock to a time you determine to simulate a quick-paced, end-of-game situation.
DIAGRAM 3: Solo Bomb Drill. This drill is set up like the previous two. 1 defends X1 in the half-court. 1 obtains possession via steal, rebound or made shot. Once 1 has possession, start a game clock. Coaches can choose a time and reduce the time as each new player tries the drill.
1 speed-dribbles through the defense and shoots a 3-pointer based on the time left on the clock. Reducing the time speeds up the drill and forces each successive player to take a longer, tougher shot. Award three points for a made shot. There is no put-back option in this drill. The losing team again is forced into a minor penalty situation.
Use these drills at the end of practice. That’s when players are fatigued, and it’s a fun and productive way to finish the practice session. The winning team’s practice is complete, and the losing team is penalized.
Running through the previous drills make your team better prepared to handle end-of-game situations. To go along with the improved dribbling, shooting and passing skills from the drills, use the following fundamentally sound offensive schemes to place players in the best position to win close games. Some plays are designed to be run in full-court situations, while other are designed for half-court scenarios. Also, some plays are better suited for different time situations.
The plays are designed to address different situations — time remaining, score scenarios, where the inbounder is located.
DIAGRAM 4: Home Run. In this situation, your inbounder (1) can run the baseline. 5 lines up on the ball-side block. 2 and 3 set near midcourt. 4 starts near the ball-side low-post block in the front court. 1 runs the baseline as 5 sets a screen. 1 now should have an open look down the court. 4 breaks to the free-throw line to get in position for a long pass from 1.
If 4 doesn’t have a clean shot, 4 taps the pass to 2 or 3, who have crisscrossed near midcourt and are on opposite wings.
DIAGRAM 5: Home-Run Variation. As a variation to Home Run, when 5 sets the screen to free 1, 5 then steps out-of-bounds. 5 now is a legal and viable option to become the new long thrower. 1 sends a bounce pass to 5 (bounce passes are slower, giving 5 more time to get set — 5 must be established behind the end line before receiving the pass). 2, 3 and 4 have the same responsibilities.
DIAGRAM 6: Grand Slam. If your inbounder can’t run the baseline — and can’t pass back to a player coming out of bounds — the Grand Slam is an option. All four potential pass receivers start in the front court. 2 and 3 line up slightly staggered just beyond midcourt. 1 starts below the basket, and 4 lines up just outside the free-throw area.
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On the trigger’s (5) command, 2 sets a screen for 3. 3 cuts to the left-side wing. 2 moves to the right free-throw-line extended. 4 moves into the lane and screens for 1. 1 uses the screen to pop to where 4 originally started. 4 then seals off the defender to get in a position for a long pass from 5.
If 4 receives the pass and doesn’t have a shot, 4 taps the pass to 2 or 3. 1 is the fourth possible scoring option.
DIAGRAM 7: Front-Court Security. Run this play if time dictates that a shot does not have to be taken immediately and your team has an extra timeout. This play gets the ball into the front court, allowing you to call a timeout, thereby setting up a half-court inbound play for a last-second shot.
3, 1 and 2 line up in a horizontal line beyond midcourt in the front court. 4 is in a vertical straight line from 1 but positioned in the backcourt. 1 sets an initial backscreen for 4, who makes a straight-line, vertical cut toward the hoop. If 4 is open, instruct 5 to make the long pass for the easy bucket. If it’s risky, have 5 hold the ball and let the play develop.
1 and 2 then set horizontal staggered screens for 3. 3 flare-cuts from the left side to the right side. 1 then reverses direction to set a screen for 2. 2 flare-cuts to the right sideline. If either 2 or 3 is open, 5 sends a pass to the open player.
Upon receiving the pass, the player immediately calls a timeout. Be sure to stress to 1, 2 and 3 to stay in the front court and not cross into the backcourt to meet the ball. This could result in an over-and-back violation.
1, 2 or 3 should alert the official to what’s happening prior to the play. That way, you get an immediate timeout.
DIAGRAM 8: Sideline Play (A). Before inbounding into the front court, have all receivers line up in a horizontal stack close to the trigger (2). 4 loops off a backscreen set by 3. 4 cuts aggressively to the hoop.
If 4 is open, 2 sends a lob pass toward the hoop for an easy layup. After setting the screen, 3 cuts hard to the ball-side corner. 1 breaks toward the backcourt. 5 posts up near the sideline trigger (2). 2 now has two scoring threats — 4 on the lob, or 3 in the corner. 2 also has two safety passes — 1 in the backcourt, and 5 sealing the defender.
DIAGRAM 9: Sideline Play (B). This is the continuation of the Sideline Play when you use the safety-valve pass.
2 passes to 1. 2 then cuts to the basket, receives a screen in the lane from 4, then finishes the cut in the opposite corner. 1 uses a screen set by 5 to dribble toward the center of the court. 5 then sets a downscreen for 3. 3 uses the screen to pop to the left-side wing. 1 looks to penetrate and create a shot (a 2- or 3-pointer, depending on time and score).
If 2 initially inbounds to 5, 2 makes the same cut. 1 then cuts to receive a handoff from 5. 1 still attacks the defense with the dribble toward the middle of the court.
DIAGRAM 10: Alternative Sideline Play. Try this alternative sideline play if you’re short on time but still have the ball on the sideline in the front court.
5 is the out-of-bounds trigger with 1, 2 and 3 lining up in a horizontal line across the lower portion of the lane. 4 lines up at the ball-side elbow area. 3 screens for 2. 2 moves to the weak-side deep corner. 1 then screens for 3. 3 breaks to the ball-side deep corner. 1 then receives a stationary downscreen from 4 at the ball-side elbow area.
This places 3 and 2 in the deep corners and 1 at the top of the key. All three guards (1, 2 and 3) now are outside the 3-point line. 4 is your possible inside scoring threat.
Coaches must start working on these plays early and add them to their offensive game plan. The more prepared your players are, the better chance your team has of winning close contests throughout the season.
John Kimble coached basketball for 20 years in Illinois and Florida, accumulating more than 340 wins. He has authored five coaching books, 90 articles and created 28 coaching videos. He can be found at www.CoachJohnKimble.com.