Preparing for Late Game Defensive Situations in Basketball

Preparing for Late Game Defensive Situations in Basketball

This article was written by South Alabama University assistant men’s basketball coach Russ Willemsen


I wrote a basketball coaching article last season on the offensive side of preparing for late-game situations. In this article, I want to dissect the defensive side of the topic. This article is geared towards stimulating your thought process, and by no means am I stating this is the correct way to handle these situations.

My goal is to offer you things to think about while on defense in a late-game situation. I believe winning close games becomes the difference between having a good season and having a great season. I want to point out: if you decide to commit a foul, make sure your players know how to foul without it being called intentional.


1. Up 3: To Foul or Not to Foul? Statistics reveal there really is not much of a difference in a team deciding to foul or not to foul when up 3. I would advise that regardless of what you believe as a basketball coach, you make sure that you communicate your philosophy to your entire team and staff. Late in games is not the time to have a mental breakdown due to poor communication. If you decide to foul, your team needs to know the exact time at which to foul and make sure the foul is committed on the floor and not in the act of shooting.


2. Do you have fouls to give? If your team has a foul to give, at what point on the clock will you use it?

3. If the other team has to go the length of the court, do you have a man on the ball or not? This is always a tough question. You are giving the passer a free look to survey the court, but you could give your defense an additional defender to track the ball.


4. Do NOT get caught ball watching! How many times have you seen players watch the flight of the ball as another player catches and tips the ball to their man for an open shot, or they are screened in because they are caught off guard due to ball-watching? As a player, stay alert!


5. A coach must be aware of what the other team can do in reference to time and score.

  • For instance: 1.3 seconds on the clock, the other team has time to catch, dribble, and shoot OR catch, pass, and shoot. They would not have enough time to catch, dribble, pass, and shoot. So if you are a help-side defender and the offensive player has initiated his dribble in this scenario, you could sell out and leave to help contest his shot if his defender is beaten.


6. Coming out of a timeout, think about changing to a 2-2-1 soft press. The other team may be thrown off, and it delays an additional 4-5 seconds off the clock.


7. Switch 1-5 ball screens with less than 8 seconds to play. Most teams do not practice working against a team that switches. Remember, mismatches will NOT beat you, but open shots will.


8. You must secure the rebound! All five players need to crash the glass in this case. This could be tied into ball watching, but many teams lose a game by not boxing out the final possession.


9. If your team has a zone defense and there are less than 8 seconds to play, you could switch to zone. Again this would confuse the offense.


10. Keep your man and the ball between you and the rim. I know it sounds simple, but take a look at this scenario: you are pressing late in the game and decide to face guard to apply more pressure getting the ball in. The offense flashes a post player, and the point guard (who was being face guarded) now gets the pass from the post (similar to Hook and Ladder in football), and now they have a numbered break versus your defense to win the game. If you decide to face guard late in the game, make sure the man guarding the ball is a safety (usually 10-15 feet inside half court) in case one of your defenders gets beat, the safety can now pick up the ball.


11. All players need to be level with the ball. Again this seems obvious, but consider this scenario: you decide to put a man on the ball in the full court. There are 5.3 seconds to go, and the ball is inbounded to the point guard. The point guard takes two hard dribbles up the sideline and crosses back over to the middle of the court. If the defender on the ball is still back near his man, he cannot provide help. If that defender sprints to the level of the ball, when the PG crosses back over, that defender can provide help on the basketball. You could be thinking: what if he throws back to the inbounder? That could happen, but now a post player has to handle the ball 65 feet from the basket and decide with less than 2 seconds to play. I will take my chances! A simple thought, but it could be the difference between winning and losing.


12. One last thing to consider, does the opposing team have any timeouts? If they come out of a timeout and call an additional timeout, would you change defenses? I think anything you can do as a coach to put confusion in the other team in late games more times than not will go in your favor.


I hope this defensive basketball coaching article gives you a few things to think about defending late-game situations. We put our players in these late-game settings daily. Usually, it is at the end of 5 v 5 when we play the clock out. I would encourage you to practice these scenarios daily, including the correct way to foul during a game. If you have any additional thoughts or comments, please email me at


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3 Responses

  1. I also like triangle & 2, box and 1, I will also show a 3-2 d and on first pass we go man. Don’t let them throw the long pass and always watch the man bringing the ball in play could very well be set up for him(we did)

  2. Love the thoughts….anytime you can keep the offense out of rhythm I think that is a success!

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