Toronto guard Kyle Lowry squarely planted his feet and braced for contact with Milwaukee Bucks athletic big man Giannis Antetokounmpo barreling down on him.
Lowry, one of the best in basketball at taking a charge, absorbed the punishment and drew a foul against the 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo. These days, not everybody is willing to do what Lowry does in the fast-paced, open-floor NBA game.
“I think it’s kind of a lost art,” DeMarcus Cousins of the Golden State Warriors said of taking a charge.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich won’t argue that sentiment.
“It seems so, doesn’t it? You can count on one hand how many charges are taken over the course of five or 10 games, in some situations,” Popovich said with a chuckle. “You see it a lot more in college than you do in the NBA. Maybe they’re protecting their contracts, don’t want to get hurt, I don’t know. There aren’t very many, that’s for sure.”
Successfully taking a charge is difficult and even those who are willing to try won’t always do so. Yet it’s a play that can change the momentum of a game during the pressure-packed postseason.
The 6-1 Lowry goes into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday night with a league-best 11 charges during these playoffs, a stat the NBA keeps under “hustle plays.” The Raptors have drawn 16 charges and the Warriors were at 16 going into Thursday night’s Game 2 win in the Western Conference finals against Portland.
There are several keys to it: Anticipate. Get in position. Solidly square your feet and prepare to be run over, knowing the foul call won’t always go your way.
“You’re going to have to stand in there. The one thing I’m super proud of our defense is we stand in there and we take hits, and we take charges,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I don’t have the numbers but we’ve got to be up there really close to leading the playoffs or leading the league.”
Golden State defensive leader Draymond Green thrives in the middle of the action, but he knows firsthand about calls not going his way.
Green failed to get the favorable whistle in the final minute of an overtime road loss against Houston in the last round. Green seemed to have position when James Harden drove the lane but no call was made. Replay showed what appeared to be a textbook charge , and the NBA Last-Two Minute Report ruled the next day a charge should have been issued.
The play came outside the restricted area, which is defined within the NBA rules as an arc of a 4-foot radius measured from the center of the basket and an area in which a defensive player cannot step in to take a charge.
“At the end of the day if that’s something you like to do you’ve got to be all right with some of them not going your way because they are really subjective,” said Golden State guard Stephen Curry. “Whether you were slightly moving side to side or your feet were planted or the charge circle debate, you’ve just got to take the good with the bad. The ones who do it well get the benefit of the doubt more times than not for sure.”
There are players in the league who stand out for consistently doing it well and getting the call — Lowry, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, Boston’s Marcus Smart and Cousins.
“It’s a big play. All of us can’t be up there and be rim protectors and dunk the ball,” Rockets star Chris Paul said. “It can definitely ignite the crowd. Charges are huge and there’s not a lot of guys in the league who do that.”
Not many teams have elite shot blockers anymore either, so taking a charge has become that much more important.
“It’s funny, I took a lot of charges as a player, and I had guys who just would not take charges,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “There are also guys who don’t know how to take charges. Then every once in a while when we get a guy who never takes one and he takes one, we realize he didn’t take one, he got charged. There’s a big difference. I don’t think it’s a lost art, though, I think there’s a lot of guys (doing it) … what’s lost is that a lot of the bigs don’t do it anymore. There used to be this thing that if you don’t block a shot you’re not a rim protector but rim protection is protecting guys from getting to the rim and I think the charges are another part of that.”
Cousins enjoys using his 6-11, 270-pound frame to draw charge calls — despite the pain he knows is part of it.
“It’s fun,” he said. “Not only does it help your guys, but it also puts the opponent in a tough position. It’s a turnover and a foul for them. … I don’t feel a lot of guys want to sacrifice their body. It’s not fun taking them, obviously. It hurts.”
Nuggets forward Torrey Craig simply chooses not to take a charge.
“You want to know my honest answer? I’ve never taken a charge before in my life. I’d rather block a shot,” he said. “I tried a couple of times overseas, to take charges, and ended up bumping knees with some guys.”
In the modern NBA, often there are fewer opportunities in games to take charges.
Teams don’t drive as much in the half court — layups often come in transition, open space. Charges also are typically taken by the player who helps, not the primary defender.
“You’ve got to be smart to be a charge-taker because you have to be there early,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You have to anticipate the play that’s coming. DeMarcus is really smart, he’s a great center fielder for our defense, so he plays behind the play and anticipates and a lot of times will step in outside that charge circle and take a charge. Ironically there have been several this year where he’s taken a charge and the officials have immediately come over to me and said, ‘Ah, I might have missed that one.'”
Golden State’s Klay Thompson, known for drawing a tough defensive assignment, believes the ability to take a charge is under appreciated.
“I think it’s a stat that should be accounted for, charges taken, because that’s just as good as a steal, it’s just as good as a block,” Thompson said. “We have a lot of guys who are good at it — Andrew (Bogut) is good at it, Draymond — these guys lay their bodies on the line and it’s kind of like a momentum shifter when you take a charge like that.”
But not every player is willing to do it.