Reinis Lacis's Basketball Blog

Vintage NBA: Off-the-Backboard Set Plays

By Reinis Lacis (@LamarMatic)

Having successfully slugged out a year of university and having done plenty of summer activities, I plan to do some blog posts from time to time that coincide with the vintage NBA highlights I upload on YouTube.

Here’s something that I probably wouldn’t have uploaded on my channel if I hadn’t started this blog where I can express myself through some writing and more creative ideas.

I recently watched the 1981 NBA Finals to get a better grasp of the Cinderella 40-42 Houston Rockets team lead by Moses Malone. Game 1 of that particular series presented an interesting play.

Although it wouldn’t re-appear in the rest of the series (and I, perhaps, should hunt down more footage of the 80-81 Rockets for further research), one of Del Harris’s set plays for Moses was to counter the fact that a defender is fronting him with a pass off the backboard. According to announcers Gary Bender and Rick Barry, it’s a known nifty play that the Rockets would use from time to time.

Here’s Moses Malone making eye-contact with the ball handler, Bill Willoughby, and pointing to the sky so he would feed him the ball off the backboard, right after Del Harris calls out “Red!” quite audibly (which means that the shot clock has reached 10 seconds):


Interestingly enough Houston attempted it twice in this particular game. Robert Reid tried to find Billy “The Whopper” Paultz (what a fantastic 70s nickname) with the same pass even if it was early in the shot clock. Paultz was ready for it and sealed off his defender, Larry Bird, in a skillful manner.


Unfortunately, both plays were broken up by the Boston Celtics:

Common sense would suggest that, obviously, the Rockets wouldn’t go to this pass every game, however, one can assume that this wasn’t an isolated incident.

It’s not the first time though that I’ve encountered a designed off-the-backboard play in my 80s and 90s NBA watching endeavors. It reminded me of a Phoenix Suns out-of-bounds play which I uploaded almost five years ago and found on an episode of Ahmad Rashad’s show NBA Inside Stuff.

Judging by the play-by-play call (“the play they pulled against Portland”) this also wasn’t a one time thing and was in fact in Paul Westphal’s playbook.

The last occasion of something similar happening actually came in this year’s playoffs when Chris Paul spontaneously found Blake Griffin with an off-the-backboard pass. It’s ludicrous that the pass wasn’t replayed and that there are only two low quality clips of this play on YouTube.

Does anyone know any other examples of such plays?


2 comments on “Vintage NBA: Off-the-Backboard Set Plays

  1. Derek
    July 6, 2015

    I’ve seen Dennis Johnson and Larry Bird successfully work this play in a few YouTube videos.

    Here, Bird does it from half-court:

    And here, in my favorite NBA clip ever, is an example of a failed backboard play which makes Dennis Johnson look completely insane:

    Liked by 1 person

    • LamarMatic
      July 6, 2015

      Awesome contribution, thanks. I had never seen them do this but, obviously, now it makes all the sense in the world that the ’86 and ’87 Celtics could pull off something this creative.


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This entry was posted on July 4, 2015 by in Vintage NBA.
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