A coaching challenge down the stretch of Sunday’s game between the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers played a major role in the final outcome.
With the Mavs trailing the Blazers, 120-119, Portland’s Damian Lillard was whistled for a foul on Dallas forward Dorian Finney-Smith with just 8.4 seconds remaining. Blazers coach Terry Stotts subsequently used the NBA’s new coach’s challenge rule.
And after further review, the play was overturned and a jump ball was called. Portland won the jump ball, Kent Bazemore was fouled and split two free throws with 5.3 ticks left, Tim Hardaway missed a 31-foot jumper as time expired, and the Blazers escaped American Airlines Center with a 121-119 victory.
Courtney Kirkland, who was the referee crew chief for Sunday’s game, told a pool reporter that: “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.
“Once the ball was legally deflected, the ball was loose when the whistle blew, which led to an inadvertent whistle. Therefore, we ended up having a jump ball at center circle between any two players.”
That outcome obviously didn’t sit well with the Mavs, who dropped to 2-1 on the season.
“I’ve never seen a call be overturned before, but it felt like a football game a little bit,” Finney-Smith said. “(Lillard) fouled me on the rebound, he slapped down, he had to come across my arm, and he also had his right hand on my hip.
“I just probably should have sold it a little bit more, but it is what it is.”
Stotts said Lillard convinced him to use the coach’s challenge on the play.
“If Dame hadn’t been so adamant, I probably wouldn’t have challenged,” Stotts said. “If we lose the challenge, they’re on the line, we’re down one. But he was pretty adamant, so I trusted him.
“You don’t know what would have happened if they had tried the free throws. There was still a lot of time. We could have hit a shot if they made the free throws. I don’t know, it’s not a referendum on the challenge.”
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of the final frantic seconds: “There was a shot, Dorian got the rebound. He went up, there was a foul called, it was challenged and reversed.”
Lillard said he was convinced the call would get overturned, which is why he went to Stotts and told him he needed to challenge the call.
“It was funny because in the preseason we just kept joking because (Stotts) came to me first and was like, ‘Dame, if you don’t think it was a foul, you’re going to lose my trust early if we get one and lose a timeout,’ “ Lillard said. “He kind of broke it down to me because he knew I would probably be the one.
“Tonight, I looked up, there wasn’t a lot of time left. I was like, this will be the perfect time and I knew I hit all ball. When I hit it, I heard all ball, I told him, I walked up, I said, ‘Coach, he grabbed the jersey, I hit all ball.’ He was like we only got one timeout. I was like I hit all ball. After the game when I was walking through the tunnel, I was like, ‘Do you trust me now? I didn’t lie to you.’ “
Despite all of that, the Mavs didn’t particularly care for how everything unfolded at the end with the coach’s challenge.
“It was smart, I guess, on their part (to use the coach’s challenge),” guard Delon Wright said. “It doesn’t make it more difficult — we could have won it.
“We missed a lot of free throws, we gave up a lot of layups – things we can control. That one we can’t control – what happened.”
Forward Kristaps Porzingis, who finished with 32 points, nine rebounds and a career-high five assists, described the coach’s challenge as something that’s a calculated move, particularly since the coach only gets one challenge per game, and he has to have a timeout remaining in order to use that challenge.
“After their coach’s challenge, we had that jump ball, ” Porzingis said. “That was the first time that I’ve been in that situation, so that was kind of interesting.
“But yeah, those are going to happen, especially at the end of the game. Coaches are going to save that for a crucial call, and hopefully get it overturned — so it is what it is.”