Damian Lillard is the Trail Blazers’ Secret Weapon on NBA Coaches Challenges

The NBA is trying to loosen the impact that referee error can have upon a game this season. By introducing the coach’s challenges, the NBA is allowing the teams to test their luck when they believe a call has not gone their way. It’s a new system that is working out some kinks, but the Blazers have a secret weapon when getting these plays overturned, and it is the same secret weapon that they use in many different situations — Damian Lillard.

Coach’s challenges

The coach’s challenge applies to three types of calls: a foul, an out-of-bounds decision, or a goaltending/basket interference call against the team. The fouls can be challenged throughout the game, while the other two must come in the final two minutes. A coach must have a timeout and call it to trigger a challenge, and there is only one per game. 

Once a coach challenges a play, the referees go to the scorer’s table and green lights, or “challenge lights,” inform everyone what is happening. If the refs reverse the call, the timeout is restored to the team. If the call stands, however, they wasted a timeout. Because of the single challenge, teams must use them strategically. 

If they use the call to early, it could be something they regret in a game, but if they don’t use a challenge during a potential momentum-shifting call, they could grow to regret that, too. The referees on the court use the in-game monitors to review foul challenges, but the other calls go to the replay center, where the officials over there will decide whether or not mistakes were made. 

The change is controversial to some, who believe that this will only grow the target on the referees’ backs and delay games that can often stretch long in the final minutes. Still, it could help prevent disastrous calls that dictate standings and later on, playoff series. As of the beginning of the challenge, most calls stand as is, but it has helped certain teams in the most important moments of the game.

The players’ role

If NBA players on the court are to be believed, none of them have ever committed a foul, tipped the ball out of bounds, goaltended, or committed any other penalty in the NBA. For coaches, however, they need the players to put on a little bit of self-awareness if they are going to use their challenges properly. 

If a player fouls the other team and tells his coach that he didn’t, the coach could waste his challenge, and not only will that cause unneeded delays, but it also costs the team a valuable timeout. Portland Trail Blazers’ head coach put his trust in Damian Lillard during an early-season game, and it may have helped the Blazers win the game. 

Damian Lillard’s judgment 

Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts (left) relies on Damian Lillard (second from right) when asking for a coach's challenge review.
Damian Lillard (second from right) is a great asset when it comes to coach’s challenges. | Steve Dykes/Getty Images

With the Blazers barely hanging on to a lead against the Dallas Mavericks, Damian Lillard defended Dorian Finney-Smith on one of the final plays of the game. Finney-Smith grabbed an offensive rebound, and Lillard successfully hit the ball out of his hands. However, the refs whistled Lillard for the foul. 

Seeing how adamant Lillard was following the call, Portland coach Terry Stotts wasted no time using his challenge, and the replay showed that Lillard had a clean look at the ball. It may have won the Trail Blazers the game, although opinionated Dallas owner Mark Cuban thought that the challenge was bogus and the call should have stood. 

No two sides to any challenge will ever think the right call was made, but the challenge allows for key moments such as this to be reviewed more thoroughly and in ways that the human eye could never catch in real-time. The system may not be perfect, but it is better than leaving everything to fate.