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Why a coach’s challenge between the Jazz and Thunder in January came up during the playoffs

Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault watches his team in the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault watches his team in the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Oklahoma City. | Kyle Phillips

On Sunday night, during Game 1 of the first-round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans, Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault challenged an out-of-bounds call with 2:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The call on the floor was a jump ball after it was unclear whether Chet Holmgren or Larry Nance Jr. last touched the ball. After the challenge review, crew chief Tony Brothers determined that the ball was actually last touched by Holmgren, resulting in a successful challenge since the ruling on the floor was overturned, despite possession going to New Orleans. However, Daigneault was told by officials that he would lose his timeout and ability to challenge despite the successful challenge.

When a coach’s challenge is used, the coach risks the timeout used for the challenge. If a challenge is successful, the coach retains the timeout. If the challenge is unsuccessful, the coach loses the timeout. So with a successful challenge, Daigneault should have retained his timeout, and since he’d been through the exact same situation once before, he knew the way it should have played out.

In the case of an out-of-bounds call resulting in a jump ball, precedent has been set that any conclusive determination of the ball being out on one team or the other results in a successful challenge, even if it might not benefit the challenging team. In fact, Daigneault is acutely aware of the precedent because he’d been through the exact same situation with the same result when the Thunder were in Salt Lake City to face the Jazz on Jan. 18, and he recalled that situation after the Thunder’s 94-92 win over the Pelicans.

“We had a game in Utah, January 18, same situation,” Daigneault said on Sunday night. “An out of bounds called, they don’t have it right on the floor, it’s a jump ball. I challenge the play, it was Utah ball. James Williams was the crew chief that night. He comes to the (mic) and says challenge successful, Utah ball, Oklahoma City retains their timeout, retains their challenge.

“... (Tonight) they told me that they checked with whoever and that I don’t keep my challenge, I lose the timeout. So, I mean, I don’t think I’m wrong because it happened during the year. But if it was wrong in Utah ... I’ve gone the whole season understanding the rule like that, so I was very confused, just because it’s a huge inconsistency. If it was wrong in Utah, I wish they would have called me. If it was wrong tonight, it’s a playoff game, so I was a little disappointed.”

I actually wrote about that exact situation back on Jan. 18 and Daigneault is 100% correct on the sequence of events. The call on the floor was a jump ball after the officials couldn’t decide who last touched the ball before it went out of bounds.

Daigneault challenged the call and possession was ultimately awarded to Utah, but Daigneault kept his timeout.

“After review, the replay center official overturns the call on the floor from a jump ball to Utah possession,” crew chief James Williams said on Jan. 18. “Because the call on the floor was changed, the challenge by Oklahoma City is successful. They maintain their timeout and they still have a challenge remaining.”

On Monday, Daigneault was asked if he had received explanation or clarification from the league on the call from Sunday night and he said that he had not.

“I’m not looking for an explanation as much as I just want to know the rule,” he said. “That’s an important decision for me. Had I known that I would lose a timeout in that situation, I probably would have just taken the jump ball. We had Chet jumping. ... That was based on a precedent that was set in a previous game. ... I’m not like asking for a phone call or anything, I just I need to know the rule before the next time we’re in that situation.”

Many believed that Daigneault had lost his timeout because the call did not benefit the Thunder, but that’s not the way that a coach’s challenge works. There are many other ways that a challenge can be successful but can still hurt the challenging team. A “successful” challenge is determined based on whether or not the original ruling on the floor is changed.

So, Daigneault is right — the league office needs to either say that they messed up on Jan. 18, or that they messed up on Sunday night, because both can’t be true. And once a determination is made, the rule probably needs to be clarified in the official NBA rule book.

A request for comment was not returned by the NBA at the time of publishing this article.