Two Late Decisions Cost Trail Blazers in Comeback Effort Against Warriors
The Blazers erased a 22-point deficit against Golden State but still fell short of snapping their losing streak.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Two decisions Chauncey Billups made in the fourth quarter on Sunday may have decided the Trail Blazers' seventh straight loss, a spirited second-half effort to claw back from a 22-point deficit against the Golden State Warriors.
One of these coaching decisions is sure to get the lion's share of the public backlash. That one was actually perfectly defensible. The other one turned out to be significantly more damaging.
With six seconds remaining and Golden State up two, Stephen Curry—who went an entire game without making a three-pointer for the first time since 2018—missed a free throw and Deandre Ayton secured the rebound, giving the Blazers a chance to tie or win.
Billups said after the game that he initially planned to call a timeout to draw up a play and advance the ball, but changed course when Ayton passed to Shaedon Sharpe, who took off in transition before being whistled for an offensive foul at the basket with less than a second to go, effectively ending the game.
When the NBA releases the Last Two Minutes report tomorrow, it will probably show that Warriors rookie Brandin Podziemski was in legal guarding position (Billups called him "already among the best in the league" at drawing charges). But that's a 50/50 call that could have easily gone the other way. If that happens, Sharpe has a chance to tie the game at the line and send it to overtime. Billups draws widespread praise for trusting his team to make a play to complete the comeback.
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That's what happened near the beginning of last season, when Billups opted not to call a timeout and instead trusted Damian Lillard to find Josh Hart in the corner for a game-winning three in Miami, one of the last moments of optimism before that season went off the rails. If Sharpe, who's now had three bad games in a row after an outstanding first half of December, successfully converted the final play, it's a confidence boost for one of the Blazers' most important young players at a time when he needed it.
But it didn't go that way, and so Billups' decision to go no-timeout will be questioned. If he'd stopped the fast break to draw something up and the Blazers didn't score, he might have been questioned for taking the ball out of Sharpe's hands in transition. He couldn't win here, unless they won.
"I wanted to just let it play out," Billups said. "If Shae had ever broken the play and stopped attacking, I would have probably called timeout. But I was comfortable with it."
As unpopular as it may be in the court of public opinion, that split-second call is a justifiable one, even if it got a bad result.
Billups' real misstep, and the one that ended up costing the Blazers, came earlier in the fourth quarter, when he chose to use his second coach's challenge to dispute an offensive foul committed by Jabari Walker. The challenge was a head-scratcher in the moment ("I really thought there was minimal contact on the play, and I thought we can get the ball back," Billups said afterwards), and it didn't take long for the call to be upheld on video review.
Maybe Billups thought he could go 2-for-2 after successfully getting a Scoot Henderson offensive foul overturned into a three-point play in the first half. Every coach has their own rationale for which plays they do or don't challenge, but I've seen Billups let calls go that were far more objectionable than this foul on Walker. That's not the kind of call that ever gets overturned.
But, for whatever reason, he burned his final challenge—and a timeout—on this play. That meant he didn't have that card to play with nine seconds remaining, when the ball was called out of bounds off Jerami Grant. From every available angle, it looked like it was off Curry. There's a good chance the report the league releases tomorrow will show that. If he'd had a challenge to use, the Blazers could have gotten the ball back down one with a chance to win.
As it always goes with these things, it would be easier not to have a game come down to a couple of calls and coach's decisions if the Blazers hadn't gotten down by 22 in the first place. They know it, too.
"We need to get off to better starts," Anfernee Simons said. "That's going to help us out. But we're scrapping at the end of games. That's going to put us in positions. That's a head start for what a lot of quote-unquote 'young teams' are. We need to get off to a better start to potentially get a win."
Unlike the last two ugly home losses to Utah and Dallas, there was a lot to like about the Blazers' play in this one, particularly in the second half. Henderson played what I think was his best start-to-finish game yet, aggressive and confident on offense and disciplined on defense (only two fouls!). Simons scored all 24 of his points in the second half and Jerami Grant had another excellent game in his second day back from a concussion. They played like they cared about ending this losing streak. It was just too little, too late.
"We're all trying to figure it out, and that just takes time," Simons said. "It's rare that you throw a team together for the first time and they start winning. All the good teams have been together for years. That's the kind of thing that I try to preach to the young players. It's a process."