Whether it's late in the game when they need a score to win or tie, or it's just to stop a run, every NBA team has a go-to play in their pocket to get them the best possible look at the basket. Many of those plays have similar elements, but there is almost always some quirk unique to the coach or the personnel on the floor that sets the play apart from how everyone else runs it.
With that established, let's take a look at some go-to plays for each of the teams remaining in the playoffs.
Chicago Bulls - Pick-and-roll with baseline screen
There's a lot going on here for such a simple-looking play. The Bulls set up with Nate Robinson handling the ball above the key, Jimmy Butler in the near-side corner, Joakim Noah on the near-side block and Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng on the far-side elbow and block, respectively.
The action kicks off with a screen for the screener on the right side of the court. Boozer sets a pin-down screen for Deng, getting just enough of a piece of Gerald Wallace to give Deng same extra space to set a screen of his own for Robinson out high.
At the same time, Butler rubs his man off Noah's shoulder on what has now become the weak-side block. As Robinson comes around the screen from Deng near the top of the key, Boozer slides down to the strong-side block and sets another screen on Butler's man, who is already in a trail position and has been thrown off his route by Noah's initial screen.
The Bulls have a few different variations of this, mostly changing the location of different players within the set. Maybe it's Deng who comes off the baseline screens. Maybe he pops out to the wing instead of the corner. Maybe Kirk Hinrich runs the screen-and-roll, Noah screens the screener and Taj Gibson sets the initial baseline screen. The exact location of the principals and who the play is run for aren't as important as the timing, which has to be pretty perfect to get the shot you want.
Golden State Warriors - High screen with nail roll
Mark Jackson and his staff came up with some incredibly fascinating, innovative sets this season—most notably The Elevators and the Crazy Eights. However, when they really needed a basket, the Warriors would oftentimes go to one of the simpler plays in all of basketball to generate an open look.
Like Chicago, Golden State's set is notable for the seemingly endless interchangeability of parts. The ball-handler could be either Stephen Curry or Jarrett Jack, the screener any of Andre Bogut, David Lee, Carl Landry, or even Draymond Green or Harrison Barnes. A few of any number of players (Curry, Jack, Barnes, Green, Klay Thompson) could be spotted up along the perimeter.
The precise location of each player is dependent on who is on the court at the given time, which itself is determined by any number of things like the opposing personnel, time and score and who is playing best at the time.
The play works best with Curry handling the ball because he's such a massive threat to pull up for a jumper immediately after coming off the screen. Jack has his own strengths—he's a stronger driver and a far better finisher at the rim than Curry is—but the threat of Curry pulling up for the deep ball bends the defense in ways that Jack can't approximate even on his best day. Curry also has better court vision and has become extremely adept at making the hook pass over his shoulder to either a rolling big man or a spot-up shooter.
Bogut, Lee and Landry each bring their own skills as the roller as well. Bogut is by far the best screener of the three, Lee's the best shooter and passer and Landry falls somewhere in the middle of the two.
The key here is the ability of the big man to make the right play off the catch if the defense jumps Curry or Jack and forces them to give the ball up. The split-second decision to shoot, dribble or pass is the difference between a basket and a miss or a turnover.
Indiana Pacers - Post-up/flare screen combo
This is yet another play with interchangeable parts. It works to generate an open three-point look because of both the quick misdirection and the excellent screening abilities of Indiana big men David West and Roy Hibbert.
At different times this season, the man getting the initial post-entry pass on this play has been Lance Stephenson, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West or Tyler Hansbrough. The screener has been West, Hibbert, Hansbrough, Jeff Pendergraph or George. And the shooter has been Stephenson, George, George Hill, D.J. Augustin or Gerald Green.
There's nothing complicated going on here. Post entry, quick feint at a cross-court cut, then a jab back outside the lane behind a flare screen for an open three.
Memphis Grizzlies - Pick-and-roll into post-up
This pick-and-roll into a hi/lo post-up opportunity has been a staple of the Memphis offense for as long as this current group of grit n' grinders has been together. While Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are each more than capable of playing either forward role within this particular play set, the Grizzlies as a unit seem more comfortable with Randolph as the screener rolling into post position and Gasol as the man making the decision in the high post.
This is likely the case for a few reasons, starting with Gasol's capabilities as a passer, jump shooter and driver from the elbow area. His ability to catch, survey the court and instantaneously make the right shoot-pass-drive decision is nearly unmatched in today's NBA.
Randolph's physicality makes him an ideal choice to roll into post position. While he's comfortable shooting out to 20 feet or so, and he's both a solid and willing passer, he's no Gasol when it comes to quick-twitch recognition of what to do in these types of situations. Get him the ball on the block, though, and it's very likely to go in the basket very soon.
Mike Conley, for his part, has become an excellent shooter and distributor out of the pick-and-roll. He often hides behind a Randolph or Gasol screen for a beat before shooting or jetting into the lane, but he also knows when to give the ball up, and he doesn't hesitate to let someone else make the correct play.
Miami Heat - 4/small pick-and-roll
This is not your average pick-and-roll play. First of all, your average team doesn't have LeBron James handling the ball coming off a screen, obviously.
Your average team also does not have Ray Allen as the screener floating out toward the wing for a possible pick-and-pop jumper. And your average team definitely does not have its center spotting up in the weak-side corner waiting for a kickout.
But that's the 2012-13 Miami Heat—they're the positional revolution come to life. Though this particular video features two bigs (the Chrises Bosh and Anderson) on the court, the Heat often run something like this with LeBron as the "4." How many other teams in the league will run a 4-1 or 4-2 pick-and-roll with the "5" as the shooter in the weak-side corner? I can't name any, and I bet you can't either.
New York Knicks - Cross screen for Carmelo post-isolation
Much as Knicks fans might like their team's go-to play to include the words "pick-and-roll," the truth is, more often than not Carmelo Anthony is going to get the ball for a post-up or isolation on the deep wing when the Knicks truly need a basket.
The Knicks love to set cross screens for Carmelo to give him a little bit of extra space to catch the ball before he sets up his attack. Early in the game, they often set these screens at or near the elbow, hoping to get him catch-and-shoot jumpers to establish a rhythm.
Throughout the middle stage of games, they'll vary it up a bit and set some of the screens on the block, using the point guard or shooting guard as the screener rather than Tyson Chandler or Kenyon Martin, allowing Melo to establish deep post position on his man.
Even though Carmelo ranked as the most efficient scorer in the league as a pick-and-roll ball-handler this season, per mySynergySports, he still feels most comfortable operating one-on-one, especially late in games. Both Mike Woodson and Raymond Felton have expressed the sentiment that the Knicks will live or die with whatever shot Melo gets them late in games, and while that hasn't exactly been the most successful proposition this season, it's worked like gangbusters in the past.
Oklahoma City Thunder - Middle screen for Durant isolation
The Thunder offense was never the most imaginative in the league to begin with, but since losing Russell Westbrook for the season, they have become even more reliant on the one-on-one wizardry of Kevin Durant than they were before.
When you have a transcendent talent like Durant, sometimes it doesn't really need to be more complicated than that.
San Antonio Spurs - Misdirection screens
Twice this season alone, Gregg Popovich has drawn up a play not for Tony Parker, not for Tim Duncan, not for Many Ginobili, not for Kawhi Leonard, but for Danny Green in a late-game situation with the Spurs needing a basket.
And just last week, Pop broke out the exact same set for the game-tying basket in Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors.
The action starts off simply enough with Parker swinging the ball to a big at the top of the key and then clearing out to the left wing. The big man—Duncan against the Lakers, Boris Diaw against the Warriors—then hands the ball off to a wing moving from right to left, back toward Parker.
As this is happening, Green is under the basket setting a screen for Stephen Jackson (against the Lakers) or Leonard (against the Warriors). With so much flow moving right to left, the defense loses Green for a split second, which is just long enough for him to leak out the back side and get a screen of his own, creating the necessary space for him to knock down the open three.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!