Desperation Plays

Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at

Sooner or later, you get to make the biggest decision in a basketball game that you can make - what your team will do in the final seconds to either win or lose the game. Maybe its been a miracle comeback by your opponent, maybe you've struggled and played poorly against a weaker team, or maybe its been a epic battle of highlights ... none of that matters anymore ... the game has come down to the last shot.

Some teams never seem to face this situation. Others, by a cruel twist of fate for the anxious, worrying coach, will have one nail-biting contest after the other. Every team, though, must prepare for the "end game scenario". If you don't, you're not very likely to go home happy.

Rehearse the plays below (if you do not have your own favorites) and then, at least, you'll be ready when the time comes. The kids love to practice the end game. They love the countdown and the chance to be heroes. A last second basket is a big thrill, even in practice. If you take the time to work on the last second desperation plays, your team will benefit in two ways:

  1. All the players on the floor will know what to do. How many times have you seen a coach draft up a play and the watched it fizzle in confusion? Its almost impossible to have five people work together under pressure to do something difficult absolutely right the first time they try it. However, if they have run the play 20 times already, chances are everyone will do their job. Confidence will be up, because the kids know they have chance, and confidence is a huge benefit when the pressure is on.

  2. When you practice the plays, you are also practicing defending them at the same time. As much as you may want the ball in the closing moments, there's only a 50% chance it will be in your possession. You need to know what to do on defense, too. In practice, the kids will soon recognize what the opponent must do to score - the long pass, the long shot - and can take advantage of their foreknowledge. They will also understand how difficult it is to score at the last second and manage their risks accordingly. Teams that understand the risks will avoid disastrous fouls.

If you have the ball under your basket, run your best Baseline Out of Bounds play.

If you have the ball at mid-court (like after a time out), use your best Out of Bounds Sideline play.

If you have the full court to cover just to get your last shot, the situation is truly desperate. Try these plays:

Full Court Last Second Plays - Long Throw


This play can start like a stack play, with Player Y1 facing a lineup of Y2, Y3, Y4. However, placing Y4 off to the side is an effective safety pass in bounds.

Y5's position at the top of the key is very important. Y5 will dive down to the baseline to start the play. Before Y5 breaks, though, he/she should act as if the pass should should go there, at the top of the key. Keep the defender guessing.

As Y5 goes to the baseline, Y2 calls for the ball and moves forward.

Y3 breaks toward the mid court line on the opposite side of the floor, also calling for the ball.

Its important to draw the defensive attention away from Y5.


Y1 needs to have a strong accurate arm. Pick someone who can throw the well overhand, with a good backspin. Any sideways spinning will cause the ball to curve.

Y3 sets a pick for Y2. Y2 is the desired shooter. Y2 should be sure to rub his man off on the pick by Y3. 

Y5 has cut to the baseline, hopefully decoying the defender to go with him. Now he must cut back sharply to the ball. Y5 MUST catch this pass.

Y5 receives the ball and relays it to Y2 who should be going full speed in the outside lane. Ideally, Y2 completes the layup.

Depending on the action Y5's defender takes, Y2 may also pull up with a jumper or feed the ball back to Y5.

Repeatedly practicing the play will allow the team to hone its timing and gain a good sense of how much time is remaining. A sense of time will help them take the best possible shot.

Full Court Last Second Plays - Short Throw


It takes a lot of athletic ability to throw the ball accurately for three fourths of the length of the court. This play may be better suited for younger teams, or for teams that that prefer the shorter, more consistent throw-in.

The four players on the court form a diamond at center court. This formation is flexible enough that the defense should not be able to tell who is going to break where. If the defense overloads any point on the diamond, then the offensive player away from the defense will have an advantage.

To start the play, Y2 breaks to the left, splitting between Y4 and Y5. If B2 tries to follow, Y4 and Y5 should "shut the door" behind Y2 and lock out B2. Usually, B2 will try to go around the diamond. This will cost precious seconds.

Y2 may also go around the diamond instead of through it. The key is to read the defense. The point is simply to gain some room between Y2 and B2.

Y3 and Y4 could also be the breaker, either running through the diamond or around it. As long as your team is clear on who is breaking, your man will get free. With a little practice, the team can size up the defense and determine who should break.


Once Y2 breaks, the defense is forced to react. In this example, both B4 and B5 have take responsibility to cover Y2 who is free.

Y3 and Y4 are now open for the mid court pass. In this case, Y1 throws to Y3.

A mismatch developed because B5 and B4 have moved towards Y2.

Once Y3 has the ball, Y5 should roll to the basket, get the pass and score.

If B5 recovers in time and slides over to stop 5, B2 will still be open and can get the pass from Y5.

Y2 must NOT slow down. Do not give the defense a chance to catch up. If they do, the match-ups will stabilize and the advantage will be lost.