The coach`s challenge landed in the NBA rulebook on a trial basis in 2019 and permanently a year later. Inspired by the success of the NFL version, NBA coaches pushed for it to be used and earned the right to use it after five years of experimentation in the G League. While it`s the head coach who flags an exam — that familiar finger whirlwind that unleashes a neon-green light at the scoring table, leading to a trio of referees crowding around a monitor — everyone has someone to lean on. These are simply types of challenges, anonymous assistants, unless your eyes fall on a backbencher whose head is buried in his laptop. These are the people who (unknowingly) encourage you when a missed call is reversed, the ones who (unknowingly) curse you when a team refuses to challenge you. When an entire bench spins in a tight game, it`s the mid-level polo workers that everyone looks at. “Think of them as the long snapper,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Nobody knows who they are until they wander it over the quarterback`s head.” Challenge coaches are not selected as often as they are drafted. Shortly after the NBA approved the challenge, Reynolds, then Boston`s video coordinator, received a text message from then-Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “You have to become a rule expert,” the message read. Dylan Murphy, a sports radio intern turned G-League assistant, joined Steve Clifford Magic`s staff in 2018. He was pushed into the role and immediately devoured the rulebook.
“There are so many random details,” says Murphy, who is still with Orlando. “I had to memorize it. Jordan Sears, the Mavericks` video coordinator, says he was “a little bit attracted” — in part, he says, because of his calm demeanor. “I knew it was going to be a stressful job,” Sears says. “But I didn`t know what a hot chair it was.” To address issues with games running at the end of games, the league adjusted the rules last season and stripped umpires of the power to review games out of bounds in the final two minutes and overtime, so they can only be reviewed by a coach`s challenge. That, says NBA president Byron Spruell, reduces “exciting games” by 60 percent, which the league defines as those in which the final two minutes last more than 18 minutes in real time. The league also cracked down on some of the tricks teams used to buy time — a long shoelace was a favorite — by hitting late warnings and even technical fouls for violations. “Overall, we feel like it was really a strategic part of the game that our coaches really use,” Spruell said.
“I`m sure each team has its own vision of its effectiveness. But we feel that everything is going in the right direction. Each offseason, the NBA`s Competitions Committee reviews changes and updates to the league`s rulebook. The game has changed a lot over the years and may require adjustments and adjustments to the rulebook to adapt to the modern game. There have been some pretty significant changes in recent years, including the exaggeration of fouls, the addition of the coaching challenge, and the play-in tournament. Would the games take longer? Honestly, it`s hard to say. Perhaps not if checks take place during the mandatory timeout window. Perhaps they would if coaches were so successful with their challenges that each game sees four possible combined challenges. There`s still a lot to say, as Silver said that would be the case this offseason.
The NBA`s Board of Governors today approved changes to the league`s instant resume rules on a one-year trial basis for the 2021-22 season. The list of possible triggers could be endless, but coaches across the league would like to see changes to the challenge system. “I think the other thing I would say is sometimes it`s not the things you`re disputing, it`s the things that aren`t mentioned that need to be challenged.” Three years later, the NBA considered its challenge system a success. The numbers are stable. During the first season of the rule, 2019-2020, 633 appeals were contested, of which 281 were successful, representing a reversal rate of 44.4%. Last season, 719 appeals were contested, 346 successful, for a turnover rate of 48.1%. But in reality, many of these challenges would occur during the mandatory (timeouts) if they happened earlier in the game, so it wouldn`t change the overall duration of the game. They don`t want to add a lot of time to the game because of the fan experience, and that`s understandable. But I think it would be a low-cost offer, and I think the goal would be to work within that constraint, you know? “I think if your downtime is up and you haven`t used it, you should still have your challenge,” Lue said.
Matt Reynolds knows that feeling. In the second quarter of Game 3 of the Boston Conference semifinal series against Milwaukee, Celtics assistant Reynolds saw a referee signal a block to Marcus Smart — a call that, had it been the other way, would have meant the third foul on Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Charles Klask, a Nuggets assistant, grimaces when he recalls a regular-season game against the 76ers, when JaMychal Green threw his fingers at him — the universal sign to challenge a coach — because a turnover would mean a fourth foul for Joel Embiid. “Some of them are pivotal moments,” Klask says. “All you think is I`d better do it right.” And, as with everything else, a desire to improve. Some guys in the challenge have taken the initiative to spot the referee team leader and find that they are reluctant to answer their calls. To improve the flow of play, especially at the end of games, the NBA eliminated referee-initiated rechecks of limit violations during the last two minutes of the fourth period and the last two minutes of overtime. Along with that, the league also expanded the coach`s challenge, allowing teams to trigger a repeat of out-of-bounds violations throughout the game. Previously, coaches couldn`t challenge an out-of-bounds decision in the last two minutes. Steph Curry still doesn`t know if he needs to change his game because of the NBA`s new rules for hunting offensive fouls. It was recently used in an example by referees. Here is the entire Curry Soundbite + Play in question (32-second mark) pic.twitter.com/MJu3D2zstx For the challenger, the work begins before kick-off.
“You`re always recording things,” Klask says. “Do we have downtime? What are the players` faulty situations? Would the challenge lead to our possession or a jump ball? Could that take points away from the board? After the final whistle, every moment is precious. “You usually have about 10 seconds,” Reynolds says. “Twenty, max.” From a laptop, trainers have access to multiple feeds. There`s video of the arena house, called the coach`s camera, that every team can see. There are TV shows at home and visiting. “Sometimes there`s a three- to five-second delay,” Klask says. “And that`s the longest three to five seconds of your life.” Team transfers that quickly lead to the repetition of a close call, often from multiple angles, can be helpful. “Theoretically,” Reynolds says, “you have access to slow-motion reruns” — but that`s a director`s whim.
For some challenge guys, an iPad they can zoom in on with a pinch of fingers is an advantage. But most prefer the larger screens — and the ability to display multiple views in different windows — that laptops offer. The challenge system has evolved over the past few years and coaches want it to change again this offseason.