The Portland Trail Blazers escaped from Dallas with a 121-119 comeback victory over the Mavericks on Sunday night, but it didn’t come without its fair share of drama.
Up 120-119 with just 8.4 seconds remaining it appeared as if Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard fouled Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith while going for a rebound. In past seasons, Finney-Smith would be shooting free throws to spot his team a one point advantage with under ten seconds remaining. On Sunday night, Terry Stotts decided to use his coaching challenge - and he won.
Instead of needing a last-second game-winning shot, Kent Bazemore corralled the ensuing jump ball, made a free throw to push the advantage to two points, and the Blazers held on for arguably its best win of the young season.
The NBA introduced these challenges over the offseason with the intention of increasing the percentage of correct calls, especially in late-game situations. In layman's terms, each coach receives one challenge per game and if the call isn’t overturned then the team loses a timeout. For the first time ever, a coaches challenge directly determined the outcome of a game.
It took Stotts a little bit of convincing from his star point guard in order to pull the trigger on the challenge. As NBC Sports Northwest’s Dwight Jaynes reports in his postgame article, Stotts had to be absolutely certain that he was making the correct decision.
“Damian put me over the top,” Stotts said of his decision to challenge, which led to the call being overturned. “He was pretty adamant. Eight seconds and see what happens with the free throws. If Dame hadn’t been so adamant I probably wouldn’t have challenged. We’ve had this discussion. I told the players, when I ask you, you have to be truthful. Because most of you think you didn’t foul. I will trust them in those situations, but they have a responsibility to know if they foul them or not.
Here is a closer look at the controversial play:
Foul or no foul? pic.twitter.com/pFsmxpBATp— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) October 28, 2019
As Lillard goes to swipe the ball away from Finney-Smith, did he get all ball? And if he did, was it conclusive enough to be overturned?
Crew Chief Courtney Kirkland believed that it was, and his opinion was the only one that mattered.
Transcript: NBA Referee Courtney Kirkland Comments to Pool Reporter after Trail Blazers - Mavericks Game. pic.twitter.com/UbnSdYSk4K— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) October 28, 2019
After the game Mavericks owner Mark Cuban took to social media to voice his opinion on the call.
I’m a fan of the nba challenge rule , but if a play is overturned and they don’t show the replay that justifies overturning a call along with an explanation then it’s going to have real problems. From the angles we saw in arena it looked like a clean strip but body contact first— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) October 28, 2019
While Cuban and the Mavericks may have felt hard-done by the ruling, Portland players enjoyed the outcome and Stotts’ decision to utilize the challenge.
I really like that rule... potentially could save A lot of games!! https://t.co/VuR86GOf58— Jusuf Nurkić (@bosnianbeast27) October 28, 2019
Terry Stotts challenge— Mario Hezonja (@mariohezonja) October 28, 2019
Good defense , clean strip. Review worked in our favor tonight. I’m sure it’ll come back around for y’all. https://t.co/UxQrby75lr— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) October 28, 2019
Throughout the first week of the season it seems as if a majority of coaches are throwing these challenge calls around too liberally early in games. In Dallas, Stotts provided a textbook example of the benefits of a properly utilized coaches challenge.
With the win, the Blazers move to 2-0 on their opening four-game road trip. They will take on the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night.