Stotts credits Lillard for key coach's challenge

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DALLAS — Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts credited star guard Damian Lillard for convincing him to challenge a critical foul call late in the Trail Blazers’ 121-119 win over the Mavericks, the most impactful use yet of the NBA’s new rule that is being used on a one-year trial basis.

With the Blazers leading by one with 8.4 seconds remaining, Lillard was called for a foul that would have sent Dallas forward Dorian Finney-Smith to the line for the potential go-ahead free throws. The call was overturned after being reviewed, resulting in a jump ball at midcourt, with Portland’s Kent Bazemore chasing down the loose ball after Dallas’ Kristaps Porzingis tipped it.

“If Dame hadn’t have been so adamant, I probably wouldn’t have challenged,” said Stotts, who has won two of his three challenges. “We’ve had this discussion. I told the players, ‘When I ask you, you’ve got to be truthful because most of you think you didn’t foul.’ They have a responsibility. I will trust you in those situations, but they have a responsibility to know if they fouled him or not.”

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle didn’t offer an opinion on the overturned call, but Dallas owner Mark Cuban tweeted his concerns about the call.

“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,” referee Courtney Kirkland told a pool reporter. “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.”

Coaches are allowed to challenge one call per game. If the challenge is not successful, the team loses a timeout. In this instance, it would have been Portland’s final timeout, which factored into Stotts’ initial hesitance to use the challenge.

“I was like, this would be the perfect time, and I knew I got all ball, because when I hit it, I heard the ball. I told him,” said Lillard, who scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half, including a driving layup that gave the Blazers the lead with 26.8 seconds remaining. “I walked up and said, ‘Coach, you’ve got to trust me. I hit all ball.’ He was like, ‘We’ve only got one timeout.’ I was like, ‘I hit all ball.’ That was when he called for the review. After the game when I was walking through the tunnel, I was like, ‘You can trust me now. I didn’t lie to you.'”

Finney-Smith, who was trying to score after grabbing an offensive rebound when the call was made, thought he was fouled more than once on the play.

“I mean, he fouled me on the rebound, he had to come across my arm and he also had his right hand on my hip,” Finney-Smith said. “They’re the same calls he gets. I just probably should have sold it a little more. I should have sold it, but it is what it is. We had opportunities. We just didn’t get it done. I ain’t gonna make no excuse.”

The challenge was a major factor in deciding a game that featured spectacular performances by a pair of star duos.

CJ McCollum kept the Blazers in the game with 35 points on 13-of-26 shooting, and Lillard got hot after halftime, scoring 19 points in the third quarter as Portland rallied from a 12-point deficit. Dallas’ Luka Doncic (29 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists) came just shy of his second straight triple-double, and Kristaps Porzingis scored a season-high 32 points, highlighted by a 3-pointer he hit with his heels on the halfcourt logo.

As much as the overturned call impacted the outcome, Doncic blamed himself for the loss.

“I lost that game. Bad shot selection,” said Doncic, who was 8-of-22 from the floor and 2-of-11 from 3-point range, missing all four of his long-distance attempts in the fourth quarter. “They were in the bonus. I should have drove it.”

The Mavs still had a chance to win the game at the buzzer after Bazemore was fouled and split a pair of free throws. Tim Hardaway Jr. missed a 31-footer.

Although the challenge helped the Blazers win, Stotts remains lukewarm on the rule, saying he didn’t consider the overturned call “a referendum on the challenge.” Lillard, on the other hand, is firmly in favor of the rule.

“I think it’s pretty good, especially after tonight,” Lillard said. “I’m sure it might come a time where it doesn’t work in our favor, but I think it’s still a good thing because the right call is being made. We’ve had situations where we’ve lost games at the end of the game because of situations like that. If they don’t overturn that, he’s going to the line and we’re down one and we have to score up against the clock. I think it’s going to be a good rule.”



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