Category Archives: Defense

May 26, 1987 – Larry Bird Steals the Ball (and the Game)

Larry Bird’s entire career was a highlight film but one of his most famous moments came on this day, May 26, in 1987 during the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.

The Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons were tied at 2 games apiece and the crucial Game 5 was being played at the historic Boston Garden.

Detroit was ahead 107-106 with only seconds remaining in the game when the ball was knocked out of bounds as Boston’s Larry Bird tried to score.

Surprisingly (especially if you were a Celtics fan) the ball was awarded to Detroit and Isiah Thomas got ready to inbound the ball with only five seconds left on the clock.

All Detroit had to do was inbound the ball safely and they probably would’ve won the game and taken a 3 games to 2 lead.

However, as Thomas tried to inbound the ball to Pistons’ center Bill Laimbeer, Bird jumped into the passing lane and stole the ball.

As soon as he caught it Bird turned and passed the ball to a cutting Dennis Johnson who laid the ball in with only one second on the clock to give the Celtics the win.

Even though he finished the game with 36 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists it’s his steal that has gone down in NBA history.

You can watch Larry Bird’s iconic steal below. (Notice the reaction of the Celtics’ bench – especially Bill Walton’s!)

How to Defend Baseline Out of Bounds Plays (BLOBS)

Offenses have gotten better and better over the years at creating open shots on out of bounds plays.

If your team isn’t 100% clear on what your overall strategy is for defending these plays, the offense will always win.

Here’s some tips on how you can better defend out of bounds plays and make it very difficult for your opponents to score. If you win each of these battles during a game it could mean the difference in 4-10 points going in your favor and ultimately determining the outcome of the game.

Shane Dreiling’s Match Up Zone Rules

Match up Zone DefenseShane Dreiling’s match up zone defense is a combination of defensive principles that he learned from Fred Litzenberger and the late Don Meyer.

These match up rules are fundamentally sound and can (and should) be applied to all defenses.

  1. Continually point to your man and talk to your teammates.
  2. Guard someone – do not have two defensive players on the same offensive player.
  3. The defense takes the shape of the offense’s alignment.
  4. Keep bigs in and smalls out.
  5. The post player comes out in emergencies only – when the offense have all 5 players on the perimeter.
  6. Help side defenders straddle the weak side lane line. Assume all offensive players are good shooters and then adjust accordingly.
  7. Guards dig into the post to force a pass back out to the perimeter.
  8. Switch everything to keep your biggest players inside. Do not switch the dribble.
  9. Pressure every shot
  10. Only defend out to the 3 point line – allows you to help on the high post.
  11. Pressure the ball but don’t deny any perimeter passes.
  12. Block out, Pursue, Chin the Rebound, Outlet – “BOPCRO”

Defensive Minded Coaches

Defense MindedHave you ever noticed that most coaches seem to be defensive oriented? Why do you think that is?

I think there can be several answers but the first one that comes to my mind is because it is easier.

Being a good to great offensive player requires certain skill sets such as shooting, passing, ball handling, etc. that need to be learned and then executed under pressure.

On the other hand, if a player has a fair amount of athleticism, a good work ethic, the proper attitude and a strong mind set he can be a great defensive player even if he is lacking specific defensive skills.

In other words, developing a great offensive player requires more time, knowledge, and effort than it does to develop a great defensive player.

There is nothing wrong with being defensive oriented if that is something you truly believe.

However, if that is your approach only because you think it’s easier or because you are lacking the knowledge and expertise to develop offensive skills as well then you are not serving your players well.

Change of Pace – Change of Direction

Change of PaceIn an earlier post I mentioned Coach Fred Litzenberger and what a great teacher of the game he has been throughout his career.

If you ever watch Coach Litz in practice you just might hear him yer “Change of pace, change of direction!” a hundred times.

He’s not just yelling at the ball handler either – he wants all his players using this highly effective technique to lose their defensive player.

Change of pace simply means first running hard and then slowing down while you start to straighten up in order to make the defense think you are stopping. When the defense relaxes and starts to slow down himself then you put your head down and accelerate as quickly as possible.

This one move can get the defender off balance and create all the separation you need to leave him in the dust whether you are dribbling, cutting, or running the floor in transition.

The second half of this technique is pretty self explanatory. Since most times you change direction you will want to move towards the basket, you can accomplish this by planting your outside foot and then rotating your hips and head in that direction.

Long before ball handlers learned to dribble behind their back or between their legs they used a change of pace and change of direction to free themselves of full court pressure.

The next time you practice or play open gym try using the change of pace and change of direction technique.

Use it at least once when you have the ball and at least once again when you don’t have the ball but are cutting in order to receive a pass. Your coaches and teammates will be surprised at how easily you are creating space and getting open!

Fred Litzenberger – a Coach’s Coach

Lessons LearnedLast week I had the opportunity to talk to one of the best basketball minds I’ve ever met – Fred Litzenberger, who is currently helping Luke Jackson put the Northwest Christian University men’s team on the map.

Coach “Litz” has been teaching and coaching basketball for over 40 years and has coached at Northern Colorado, Hamline University, Northwestern State, Eastern Washington, Fresno State, Colorado State, the University of Miami, Oregon (both men and women) and Vanguard University.

He has also worked with the United States Basketball Academy and the Chinese Junior National team. His teams have been in 18 NCAA Tournaments and have lead the country in scoring defense four times.

Several years ago he produced some defensive instructional tapes that were nothing short of awesome. Unfortunately, those tapes aren’t being sold anymore and so even a bootleg copy is considered by many to be coaching “gold,”

The thing that has always impressed me about Litz is his accessibility to other coaches. I first met him at a basketball camp over 20 years ago and was immediately in awe of his ability to enthusiastically and passionately teach a gym full of campers how to front pivot and reverse pivot for nearly an hour.

The time flew by and the kids were genuinely disappointed when the session ended. Ever since then when I’ve been lucky enough to bump into him in a gym somewhere, Litz has greeted me like a long lost friend instead of just a coaching colleague.

During the last 20 years I’ve called or emailed Litz four or five times with a question or strategy that I’ve wanted his opinion on and he’s never been too busy to help.

No one answers his phone for him or screens his emails and if you don’t realize how rare that is these days then you probably haven’t been coaching very long yet.

If you ever have a chance to see one of Coach Litzenberger’s instructional tapes or better yet, see him teach in person, then by all means do yourself a favor and do it. You’ll be a better coach because of it!

The Proper Way to Closeout on a Shooter

closeoutClosing out is simply closing the gap between you and a potential shooter.

This usually occurs after you have dropped off into a help position and the ball is passed or reversed quickly to your man.

Unfortunately, when a shooter is wide open you can’t just run at him or he will usually wait until you have over-committed and dribble right past you for a layup.

The only real solution is to execute a proper closeout. To do this correctly you must begin closing out as the ball is being passed and is in the air.

If you wait until the ball is caught by a skilled offensive player you will have no chance of stopping him from getting off a good shot.

Once the ball is in the air you should sprint two thirds of the way towards the shooter and then break down into short, choppy steps.

These choppy steps will stop your momentum, slow you down and allow you to regain your balance while re-establishing your defensive stance. (You should always be able to hear a good closeout so if your shoes are squeaking then you are probably doing it right.)

At the same time your shoes are squeaking, throw your hands up over your head to immediately stop the shot and/or the quick entry pass.

Even though your hands are up you need to stay as low as possible in order to be in a position to stop any possible drives.

Once you have stopped the outside shot and the drive to the rim you can readjust your positioning once again and play your normal on ball defense.

5 Defensive Essentials

5 Defensive MustsIt doesn’t matter what kind of defense that your team plays – man-to-man, zone, run and jump, combination, etc. – there are 5 defensive essentials that you need to master if you want to be considered a good defender.

Since a great many coaches are defensive minded, if you don’t master these skills you might find yourself on the bench more than on the court.

The 5 Defensive Essentials include:

  1. Close Out. Stop both the outside shot and the drive.
  2. Jump to the Ball. The give and go is the oldest play in basketball and more and more teams are using a “pass and cut” motion offense. Because it’s so simple this skill is often neglected.
  3. See both the Ball and your Man. Your head must be on a swivel to help you see. It helps if you constantly point to both your man and to the ball at the same. If you can’t point to one of them you need to readjust your positioning.
  4. Talk to the Ball. “Here comes the pick,” “Help left,” “I’ve got the lob,” “Bring him my way,” are all examples of things you can and should say to the on ball defender.
  5. Stop Penetration. Whether you are on the ball or off the ball you need to be able to help keep the ball out of the paint

10 Ways to Create Extra Possessions

10 Extra PossessionsBasketball has become a game of possessions – the more possessions a team has the greater chance of winning the game.

The most common way of gaining possession of the ball is to take it out of the net after your opponent scores but that’s certainly not going to help you win.

Here are 10 ways to create extra possessions for your team:

  • Recover a loose ball
  • Get a steal
  • Grab an offensive rebound
  • Force a 5 second call
  • Block and recover a shot
  • Take a charge
  • Force a shot clock violation
  • Save the ball from going out of bounds
  • Get a jump ball and take advantage of the possession arrow
  • Force a 10 second violation

Get one of each of these in a game and that gives your team 10 extra possessions. Shoot 50% and that gives your team at least 10 more points. How many games did your team lose by less than 10 points last year?

Now This is Owning the Paint!

Own the PaintGeorge Mikan  has long been credited as being basketball’s first great big man.

Once when playing for the Lakers, Mikan was wide open in the low post and was adamantly calling for the ball.

Instead of passing it to Mikan one of the Laker guards drove the lane and scored himself.

While they were running back on defense Mikan told his teammate to stay away from the basket since that was his area and he owned it.

The guard didn’t listen and drove the lane again but this time George Mikan, his very own teammate, violently blocked his shot out of bounds!

I don’t know for sure but I’m guessing that Shaq might have been tempted to do the same thing back in the day when he played with Kobe!