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The NBA’s latest rule change may make the Coach’s Challenge even more challenging

The pros and cons of refs no longer doing instant review on out of bounds calls in the last two minutes.

San Antonio Spurs v Toronto Raptors Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

As is the case almost every offseason, the NBA Board of Governors has approved of a new rule change, this one involving use of referee-initiated instant replay in the final two minutes and overtime. Per NBA.com:

The NBA Board of Governors today approved changes to the league’s instant replay rules on a one-year trial basis for the 2021-22 season.

In an effort to improve game flow, particularly at the end of games, the NBA has eliminated referee-initiated replay review of out-of-bounds violations during the last two minutes of the fourth period and the last two minutes of any overtime period. In conjunction, the league has also extended the Coach’s Challenge so that teams can trigger replay review of out-of-bounds violations throughout the entire game. Previously, coaches could not challenge an out-of-bounds ruling in the last two minutes.

This rule change definitely comes with its pros and cons. On the upside, yes, referees stopping play nearly every time the ball goes out of bounds in the final two minutes can hurt the flow and have a negative impact on teams in a crucial part of the game. It’s also presumably a plus that coaches can now use the Coach’s Challenge on out of bounds calls in the final two minutes when they couldn’t before. I don’t immediately recall anything off the top of my head, but it’s not hard to imagine there were instances when the refs should have reviewed and didn’t, and this will allow for the coaches to call it out.

Now for the cons. While coaches can now challenge out of bounds calls in the final two minutes of games, the previous rule of leaving that up the refs also meant coaches could save their challenges for other calls (like bad fouls or basket interference — although it still irks me that they can’t use it for non-calls on the latter). More often than not, coaches will try to save challenges for late in the game, but sometimes it comes in handy earlier, like to help a key player avoid early foul trouble. With this new rule change, coaches may be more inclined than ever to save it for late even if it could help overturn a potential momentum-swinging call earlier.

Another con is with officials no longer triggering video replay in the final two minutes, should any team suffer more than one bad call, they’re just plain out of luck in that regard, and the League is opening itself up to more potential IC’s (or incorrect calls) on their Last Two-Minute reports.

Lastly, on a more personal note, I’ll just go ahead and say this worries me for Gregg Popovich’s sake. He’s old school, and while it’s understandable that he struggles with the concept of the Coach’s Challenge — you can usually see him turning to his assistants for guidance — this rule change might make it even harder for him. His struggles with it are well documented, with an example coming from the recap of last season’s loss in Miami (one of many deflating losses towards the end of the season):

The Coach’s Challenge just isn’t Pop’s forte. With the Spurs trying to make a final run, he did not use it when they were down three with 1:29 left, and (Goran) Dragic clearly shoved (Dejounte) Murray into a (Jimmy) Butler screen, but Murray was called for the foul. With the Heat in the bonus, Butler hit the free throws to make it a two-possession game once again. Pop finally used his challenge with the Spurs down three again, and (Jakob) Poeltl interfered with Butler’s landing space with 22 seconds left, giving him the game-icing free throws. While it was clear that challenge would be unsuccessful, and Pop was just using it because he had it, it would have been nice to see him use it on a call he actually could have won and played a role in the eventual loss.

Not knowing on what calls and when to use his challenge was a frequent struggle for Pop last season, and now knowing he’ll now be responsible for detecting bad out of bounds calls in the final two minutes — therefore adding another layer of responsibility to his duties — might make him even more hesitant to use it. Time will tell, but hopefully Pop will take another step forward with his grasp on the rule in the third year of its existence.

(As a side note, still waiting for the NBA to take a page of out the NFL’s playbook and allow a coach to get his challenge back for one more use if he is successful the first time. Maybe that would help mitigate some of the cons of this new rule change.)