Last week, we looked at some final possession playcalling. This week we are taking a look at some more late-game coaching decisions. First, we are going to look at a great decision made by Lionel Hollins, one that allowed his team to protect the rim up by one point with 0.3 seconds left. Second, we are going to look at some poor clock management from Kurt Rambis and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Grizzlies Use A Backup Big To Protect The Rim

After a Zach Randolph rainbow jumper, the Memphis Grizzlies found themselves up by one point with 0.3 seconds left. With this situation, Hollins was faced with a decision that coaches tend to struggle with. That is whether or not to use his big to protect the rim or use him to bother the inbounds pass. Instead of making that decision, coach Hollins came up with a creative solution:


Instead of just throwing one big out there, Hollins put Marc Gasol on the basketball while backup center Hamed Haddadi was in the paint, protecting the rim and defending against the lob.


The Mavericks start the play with Dirk Nowitzki setting a downscreen for Jason Terry. Notice how Haddadi is not responsible for a man, instead he stays in the paint.


This is important because after Nowitzki sets his screen for Terry, he sets another screen for Shawn Marion, who uses it to try and cut to the rim looking for the lob.


The lob pass isn’t open because Haddadi is in the paint, ready to intercept any pass. Also, with Marc Gasol defending the inbounds pass, Kidd can’t see over him and get the ball to the second or third option.


Eventually, Kidd is forced to pass it to Terry at half court who tries to hit a half court buzzer beater. He misses, hitting the top of the backboard instead. Here is the play in real time:

I have always been an advocate for using a big to protect the paint in these types of situations. Not only does it dissuade a lob pass, the ball isn’t live so there is no risk of a defensive three second call. Coach Hollins was still worried about Jason Kidd making a pinpoint pass, so he played two centers. A terrific strategic decision.

Timberwolves’ Poor Clock Management

While Hollins and the Grizzlies were making smart decisions against the Mavericks, Kurt Rambis and the Timberwolves were making poor clock management decisions against the Mavericks the following night. After Nikola Pekovic hit a lay-up, the Minnesota Timberwolves found themselves down by two points with 36.4 seconds left:

Instead of fouling right away, the Timberwolves let 20 seconds come off the clock before they fouled, sending Dirk Nowitzki to the foul line with 16.4 seconds left. Here are some quick thoughts on the possession/coaching decision:

  • Down four points, this is a two possession game and even if you commit a foul here and the Mavericks hit two free throws it is still a two possession game. You need to foul and extend the game, keeping as much time on the clock as possible, giving the Timberwolves the most amount of time possible to get two shot attempts.
  • I understand the Timberwolves trying to get a quick steal here or forcing a turnover in the backcourt, but after that? There is no benefit in playing straight defense, especially if you are going to give up a soft foul at the end of the defensive possession.
  • Why do I put this on Rambis? Usually you see coaches in this situation being very¬†demonstrative¬†when they want their team to foul. In the background you see Rambis standing there very calmly, watching the possession. If he wanted his team to foul, he would be jumping up and down begging for the foul to be called. That doesn’t happen because Rambis either decided not to or failed to understand the situation he and his team was in.
  • This is not to say that the Timberwolves would have won if they fouled, but as a coach, your main job is to put your team in a position to succeed. A foul gives the Timberwolves time to make two threes.

The NBA is considered a players’ league, but late game situations are where coaches really earn their paycheck. If a coach makes a strong decision, his team is in position to win (Hollins and the Grizzlies protecting the rim with two bigs, for example). If they make some poor decisions, his team is in a position to lose (Rambis not understanding clock management).

Until next time.