Adding Some Context to the Doc Rivers Challenge Discussion

Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The original title of this story was “Marc Zumoff Stuffs Dweeb into Locker,” based on this quote tweet, but we decided to work it into something more reasonable:

There was a lot of Doc talk after Game 3. He pretty much rescued it with that late timeout to salvage a blown possession, but received prior criticism for setting up a couple of iffy plays and using his challenge on a foul that was upheld.

Let’s go in chronological order here to explain everything.

First, at the end of regulation, with two timeouts remaining, Doc used his challenge on the sixth James Harden foul call, which was an effort to keep him in the game. It was not successful, and it was the right call because Harden had his right hand on Precious Achiuwa:

That’s Doc’s challenge right there, so it’s one and done. You don’t get an extra challenge in overtime or anything like that.

So what Leroux is referring to in that tweet is the Joel Embiid vs. OG Anunoby overtime sequence, which initially looked like a clean block in real time, but when you go back and look at it again, Embiid actually catches Anunoby on the head as he’s swiping this ball:

That’s not the best angle, but you can see the contact there. They showed another top-down angle where he clearly got him on the noggin. There was plenty of ball in there, but there was elbow/forearm contact also, and this still frame takes it back a split second to the moment right before Embiid gets the ball:

Point being, all of the national guys ripping Doc on Twitter for “wasting” his earlier challenge may have been wrong here. This sequence was far from a slam dunk overturn. The Sixers would have risked losing this challenge and their final timeout, which really is the key here.

Whenever we ask Doc about challenges, he always says that he values timeouts more. In this case, you’ve got two timeouts in overtime, they had already used one, and I’m 99.9% sure that if Doc still had his challenge here, he would NOT have used it, because that final timeout is too important to risk losing. That’s probably how that sequence would have played out, if we extrapolate based on what we know about Doc.

The real question is whether or not challenging the Harden foul made sense. Yeah, you want to keep your star in the game, but did they have a serious chance of winning that? And did they account for the game going into overtime? Maybe he and the review guys sitting behind him determined it was worth a roll of the dice to keep Harden on the floor.

Regardless, there’s no guarantee that the Embiid overtime foul would have been overturned, Rivers probably would not have challenged it in the first place, and leaving himself with one timeout allowed him to salvage the final possession and set up the game-winning SLOB play.

We give Doc Rivers as much shit as anybody, but he’s coached a very good series. The decision to challenge on the Harden foul is debatable, but it ultimately did not matter, and everything else he’s done this series has been pretty much spot on.