The NBA joined the MLB and NFL this season, testing out coaches challenging certain calls. While the idea is to make officiating fairer, the coaches, players, and owners’ responses to the NBA’s new one-challenge rule have been mixed.
The first-ever NBA coach’s challenge
The very first coach’s challenge in a regular-season game occurred on October 22, 2019, when Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse challenged an offensive foul called against Norman Powell.
With two minutes and 44 seconds left in the first quarter, officials reviewed the play on the monitors and confirmed that Powell had hit Josh Hart’s face when going for a shot. They upheld the foul call.
In the same game, New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry also used his challenge, and the call was upheld as well. With two minutes and 39 seconds left in the third quarter, Gentry challenged the foul called on Kenrich Williams against the Raptors’ Serge Ibaka. After reviewing the play, the officials determined that Williams had pulled Ibaka’s shorts. Toronto won 130-122 in overtime.
Nurse told ESPN, “I haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about it. I’m not real comfortable with when I can and can’t use it, and what I can and can’t use it for. I know it’s pretty simple; there’s only a few things you can use it for.”
A challenge has an impact
The first two regular-season challenges didn’t overturn calls. A challenge in the Portland Trail Blazers’ October 27 game against the Dallas Mavericks, however, seemed to be a factor in determining the game outcome.
The Trail Blazers were up by one point with 8.4 seconds left in the game when Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was called for a foul against Dorian Finney-Smith. Lillard convinced coach Terry Stotts to challenge the call.
After review, the foul call was overturned. Instead of foul shots for Dallas, the game restarted with a jump ball at midcourt, and Portland’s Kent Bazemore getting the ball. The Trail Blazers beat the Mavericks, 121-119.
Referee Courtney Kirkland explained: “Once Portland challenged the play and we were able to go and look at replay, we were able to have clear, conclusive evidence that Damian Lillard legally deflected the ball from Dorian Finney-Smith. The ball was loose when the whistle blew, which led to an inadvertent whistle. Therefore, we ended up having a jump ball.”
There was risk in using the coach’s challenge at that stage of the game. If the challenge had been unsuccessful, the Trail Blazers would’ve lost their last timeout. “If Dame hadn’t been so adamant, I probably wouldn’t have challenged,” Stotts said. He also said one overturned call doesn’t stand as “a referendum on the challenge.”
Lillard thinks the new rule is a good one. Not everyone was happy with the outcome though. Dallas owner Mark Cuban tweeted his concern that the replay confirming that the call should be overturned wasn’t shown.
How the new rule affects the NBA
This is a test year for the new challenge rule in the NBA. A similar challenge rule has been used in the G League over the past two years. Each team is allowed one challenge per game but only on certain calls, including personal fouls, out-of-bounds violations, and goaltending calls.
Personal fouls can be challenged at any time. Out of bounds and goaltending can be challenged during the first 46 minutes of the game as well as the first three minutes of overtime.
Like the Trail Blazers’ game, the challenge rule could impact the outcome of certain matchups. But it’s unlikely to change a large number since each coach can only challenge once per game.
While this new rule does introduce new stops in play for the usually fast-paced game, hopefully it will offer a chance to fix missed calls. The tricky part will be for coaches to learn or guess when to use their one challenge.
Other challenges and opinions this NBA season
The first time a coach used the challenge in a preseason game was when the Houston Rockets played the Los Angeles Clippers in Honolulu, Hawaii. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni challenged the call of an offensive foul against James Harden with two minutes and two seconds before the half.
The call was upheld, and D’Antoni admitted being unsure about the challenge. He told ESPN, “It’s easy to screw up. It’s going to be a little adjusting. It takes a while to get used to. We don’t have the regular flow of information that we’ll have in a regular game. They’ll tell me before that I should go out there and challenge.”
Los Angeles Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers is zero for two on his challenges this season, and he says he doesn’t like the new rule. “That was awful,” Rivers told ESPN after one of his challenges failed. “It was. They should’ve overturned it. That’s why I hate the rule. Nobody wants to be wrong. Let me just say that. You have to overturn that.”