BOSTON – Decrease of the last seconds. One point game. In one of those NBA playoffs. The basketball flies out of bounds and one of the officials determines that a fielder touched it last.
But was it the right choice? The head coach of this team quickly huddles with an assistant holding a tablet, signals a time out, then makes the now familiar whirling bird gesture, index finger up. The green light on the scorer’s table lights up. The referees go to a nearby monitor, the team leader grabs a helmet…
The NBA has yet to see the Larry O’Brien Trophy or a trip to the Finals determined by the outcome of a last-minute coaching challenge. But it will almost always be the case, whether in this series or in a future one. That’s why it’s worth looking at what goes into the coach’s decision.
What: Coach Challenge Details
Prior to the 2019-20 season, the NBA launched the challenge on a one-year trial basis. A year later, with some adjustments, the rule became permanent. Here are the basics as they currently stand:
• Each team receives one challenge per match.
• To use a challenge, a team must request a time out. If the challenge succeeds, this timeout is restored.
• Three types of replays can be requested: a personal foul against one of this coach’s players; a called out-of-bounds violation, or a goalie violation or basket interference. (During the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, referees may review out-of-bounds plays and goalie plays).
• The Field Team Leader makes final decisions on foul reviews. The NBA Replay Center in Secaucus, NJ determines all other calls.
• To overturn the initial appeal, a review must provide “clear and concise visual evidence”.
Who: Eyes behind the bench
Typically, one or more assistant coaches or video technical staff sit in the second row, iPads or other tablets in hand, just behind the head coach and senior assistants. Each home team is required to make three video streams available to these devices and the changing rooms: the home and visit streams, as well as a “coaches” stream. The “coaches” stream shows an all-court view without broadcast interference such as replays, commercials, or multiple camera angles.
All of this content runs through computer software developed by the team or purchased from outside commercial vendors. One of the first widely used options came from a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania company, DVSport Software. Video from games arrives almost instantly.
This particular company provided replays and clips for practice purposes, primarily for use at halftime and between games by NCAA and NFL teams. But a March 2021 article in Basketballnews.com detailed a major shift in DVSport’s business:
In 2019, DVSport basketball account specialist Kenny Brown came up with the idea that the company could adapt some of its college sports products to NBA benches for coaches. Brown modified a few products and traveled to Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League to present and demonstrate his solution…
As Brown prepared to demo the product, he received a notification that the NBA had approved bench challenges for coaches. Craig Davis, director of team solutions for DVSport, called the announcement a revelation.
In the first season of challenges, NBA coaches would turn to the JumboTron after risky calls, waiting for replays that may or may not air. A year later, DVSport’s system has become more in demand.
“When we went to Summer League, our first thing was to use that as a teaching method, and I don’t think we were getting a lot of traction on that track,” Davis said. “It was kind of the ‘eureka’ moment when they approved the challenges.”
Eight teams initially signed up, including Dallas, Houston, Miami and the two Los Angeles clubs. Over time, a majority of teams have also joined. Whether using commercial software or custom designed versions, tablets in the benchtop area are now ubiquitous.
The Rockets mostly rely on what the tablet feeds reveal, coach Stephen Silas said. But it will also take a look at what is available above.
“I’m going to use the dashboard,” Silas said. “Knowing that obviously when we’re at home they show all the plays that might favor us, but on the road they show almost nothing.”
Time is of the essence when a coach must choose whether or not to burn a timeout. Silas recalled one of those times when an opposing player “lagged” in the lane before a free throw, trying to buy time while his coach decided whether to challenge.
“I tried to ask the referees to call a game delay,” the Houston coach said. “They didn’t, but admitted afterwards that they probably should have.”
Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. made sure that whoever he gives the thumbs up or thumbs down on a challenge feels no pressure.
“There are times when he’s not sure,” Unseld told NBA.com. “All I do with him is, ‘Tell me if you’re not sure, then I’ll give you a call. If you’re adamant, I’ll trust you. There’s no pressure and I’m not going to be upset if he’s wrong.
When: The Art of Challenge
So we have dealt with the what and the who. The where and the why are obvious. This leaves time to use a trainer’s challenge.
Since each team only gets one – whether right or wrong, unlike the NFL or MLB – each coach shapes their own hierarchy of circumstances for when in a game to contest a call, dictated by the scoreboard, the fault counts on its players, the value of the property in question, etc.
In the broadest terms, most coaches prefer to hang on to their challenges until later in games when the value of a single result or possession is magnified.
“The general feeling is that a bad call early in the game, your team has time to make up for that,” said an assistant coach from one of the teams in the 2022 final. He requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject.
“When it comes to fouls, not all players are equal,” he said. “You’d rather not use your challenge in the first half, but if someone like Giannis [Antetokounmpo] or Steph [Curry] commits his third foul and it’s early in the second quarter, you could do it.
Unseld said: “Yeah, you could say, ‘I’ll take the risk’ and then use it. But usually you want to save that. There’s so many plays in the stretch, the last two minutes, that don’t are not necessarily unclear but may be subject to interpretation.
“And if you can get points off the board or get points or get possession, that can really change the complexion of a game at the end of the fourth.”
Consider a challenge of a defensive foul, called on your star who is already at fault. “If you get that called off,” our finals team assistant said, “it’s a home run.” This takes potential points off the board and spares a key player an extra foul.
Even turning a possession call into a ball jump can swing a game, Unseld said. “Having another opportunity late is vitally important,” he said.
“You definitely don’t want to take the leap, where you need a challenge later on and you don’t have one,” Unseld said. “Last season we did a really good job of using him appropriately. I never felt like, man, I really wish I had him, but I didn’t.
Not Silas. “If I get to the end of the game and haven’t used it, I’ll be thinking, ‘Maybe I should have used it on that block/charge,'” he said. “I sometimes kicked myself.”
Between the implementation of the replay and the addition and refinement of the Coach’s Challenge, NBA fans and viewers would see a parade of players twirling their index fingers in the air after plays they didn’t want. did not like. Now, those critics depend on their coach formally challenging them, but the players and even some fans still do.
“They’ll do it in the first quarter, first foul,” Unseld said with a laugh. “Nobody fouls anymore – come on guys.
“They don’t know the rule or don’t understand the rule change. I have to explain to them, ‘Look, I only have one. I hope you’re right, but I’m not going to dispute it.
Late in a final match, with a championship potentially at stake? That’s when giving the green light the green light can change everything.
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Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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