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6 Things to Consider


When Drawing Game Winning Plays


Imagine that you were in this situation: The score is tied. It’s your ball and you just called a timeout. After the referee blew his whistle and signaled the timeout you look out and see Stephon Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Anderson Verajao (yes you are coaching the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors) running towards your bench. It is in the next sixty seconds that could determine the outcome of the game. What to do you do? Who gets the last shot? What play do you draw up? Do you even need to draw up a play?

These are all questions that a coach in this situation must answer in a split second. I know that a lot of what a coach decides to do will depend on what has previously happened in the game. However, what you don’t want to happen is to freeze. Taking 8 to 15 seconds of your 60 second timeout thinking about the small things could cost your team the game!

Before you find yourself in a situation like the one above, take a moment to consider the 6 topics presented below.

Game Winning Plays

Keep Your Composure

It’s alright to feel a little anxious, nervous or excitement in these types of situations. However, feeling these things and displaying them are two entirely different things. You must keep your composure in the huddle! Your team is watching your every move and will likely mimic your attitudes and behaviors. Be sure to talk slow, look everyone in the eye and to clearly draw and explain your play. Remember, most of us are dealing with kids and this is a high pressure situation. While you will not be able to completely remove all their doubt you can do things to calm their nerves and instill confidence.

Predict What the Refs Might Do

I see so many coaches try to put the fate of the game in hands of the officials. They draw up a play that ends up in a player going one and one trying to either draw a foul or get a layup. While this might be logical, you have to understand that most referees DON’T want to decide the game. They essentially swallow their whistles, especially in the final minutes of a close game and even more so in calls that would benefit the road team. Don’t put all your eggs in this basket!

Have the Right Players on the Floor

In some teams, you could argue that anyone of your five players on the court should take the last shot. For most of us this is not the case. Your play will be intended for one or two players to get a look at the basket. The other three players need to be committed to doing their role. It is your job to have the RIGHT players on the team. Notice how I didn’t say BEST, I said RIGHT. If your play requires a post to set a screen, but your starting post is known for setting moving screens, he can’t be in the game.

Best Player or Best Mismatch?

This is a one of those topics that differentiates coach’s philosophies from one another. Who gets the last shot? Should it go to your best player or to the player with the best mismatch? Personally, I think neither. Your first look should go to the “hot hand”. If there has not been a hot hand well then you have to choose. 

Keep It Simple!

The amount of time left on the clock when drawing up the play is going to be the number 1 factor in determining what kind of play you can run. If you have fifteen or twenty seconds you will most likely be able to run one of your normal set plays if you wish. However, if you only have 8-10 seconds you probably need to draw something up on the spot. This is enough time for a couple screens and one maybe two passes. Overcomplicating a play and trying to get tricky probably won’t work, worse it might confuse your own team. As a coach your job is to keep it simple. A few screens to get your two best players open looks AND then leave 3-4 seconds for your best player to create something if they have too.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Another mistake that I see coaches commit is that they fail to prepare for the unexpected. Remember, while you might be the coach who called the timeout, the opposing team also has 20-60 seconds to figure out their strategy. Just because they have played man to man the entire game doesn’t mean they can’t come out in a 2-3 zone. With this being said, use the majority of your timeout for what you think they will do. Just be sure to mention to your kids that the other team could switch all screens or come out in a 2-3 zone as well.

One of the things that I do in my practices once a week is to try and simulate these situations. We split up into two teams and pick a predetermined situation. For example:

  • Home team up 2, with the ball, 1 minute on the clock
  • Score is tied, defense has the ball, 45 seconds on the clock
  • Home team down 1, with the ball, 16 seconds left on the clock.

Remember, you don’t have to make these special situations a staple in your everyday practice, but at least doing a few in practice will give your players and YOU confidence come game time.

Written By Dave Stricklin

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