Bulls’ LaVine blanks Pierce in HORSE Challenge

    Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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While many of his NBA peers have been unable to get a single basketball shot up since the NBA suspended its season, Zach LaVine has been getting up hundreds; and he proved it Sunday night, shutting out Celtics legend Paul Pierce in the NBA’s first HORSE Challenge on ESPN.

“I stay ready,” the Bulls guard recently told ESPN in an interview from his offseason home in Washington. “I got about 500 shots up.”

LaVine joined former Detroit Pistons All-Star Chauncey Billups, Utah’s Mike Conley and the WNBA’s Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley in the semifinals after he eliminated Pierce in their HORSE quarterfinal matchup without picking up a single letter.

All the contestants but Conley shot outdoors with some battling elements such as cold, wind and light rain. Conley participated from an indoor gym in Columbus, Ohio, and beat former WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings, who competed from an outdoor hoop in her driveway in Indianapolis.

“This was a lot of fun,” said Oklahoma City point guard and NBPA president Chris Paul, who lost to Quigley. “As much as we all miss the game and as bad as we all want to play, [the NBPA’s] biggest message has been safety. The health of not only our players and a league but everyone as a whole. Stay at home.

“We all want the fans to know we miss them.”

The NBA, NBPA and ESPN created the HORSE single-elimination competition to come up with something competitive that also could entertain fans at home with sports shelved due to the coronavirus pandemic. The NBA suspended its season on Mar. 12 and this was the first individual basketball contest of any kind televised during the hiatus.

Each contestant used a home setup that not only had a camera focused on the court but also allowed participants to see what their competition was doing as well. Competitors also had a friend or family member use a handheld camera for an additional camera angle as well.

The semifinals and championship game will be televised on ESPN on Thursday, April 16. State Farm, the title sponsor, will donate more than $200,000 in support of coronavirus response efforts.

LaVine had no problem with the wind on his outdoor court at his home in Snohomish, Washington. While dunking was not allowed, LaVine used creative and athletic shots like a between the legs underhanded shot off the glass shot while standing on his left leg and a right-handed reverse layup that required touching the right side of the backboard with his left hand first to keep the retired Pierce off balanced.

“He was very creative, he really shocked me with a lot of these shots,” Pierce said while battling some light rain on his outdoor court at his Los Angeles home. “The backboard touch threw me off and then the rain — it never rains in [Southern] California! The weather threw me off. It was tough. I was going up against some tough conditions on top of Zach’s creativity.”

LaVine will face Quigley after the Chicago Sky’s All-Star bested Paul from her driveway hoop in Deerfield, Illinois. Quigley beat Paul, H-O-R-S-E to H-O-R, with a right corner jumper, a midrange stepback from the right side and bank shots from the right elbow and the free throw line. Her best shot came while sitting on the pavement, banking in a shot from the left side.

Paul, shooting from his outdoor basketball court at his offseason home in Encino, California, reminded Quigley that it was lightly raining at his home before he took a seat and missed the shot.

In the first quarterfinal matchup, Billups fell behind by H-O-R to nothing but rallied to beat Atlanta’s Trae Young. Young, shooting from the driveway in his offseason home in Norman, Oklahoma, got off to a quick start by catching Billups with a left-handed runner off the glass, a shot from behind the backboard on the right side and a left-handed free throw.

But Billups, who often blew his hands to keep them warm while playing on his outdoor court in Denver, said he would go on a run if he got control. He quickly handed Young letters with a right-wing, one dribble, off the right leg shot, a right corner out-of-bounds baseline 3-pointer, a top of the key bank shot 3, an underhanded free throw shot and another top of the key off glass 3-pointer.

“That is the way to respect your elders, Trae,” Billups said.

Young, known for his long-distance bombs from near halfcourt, tried mostly short-range shots and some from behind the backboard but never attempted a trademark deep 3 against Billups.

“He got it going and got it tied so I didn’t want to risk a long 3,” Young explained. “It happens. The last shot [top of the key 3-point bank shot], I’m going to blame Chauncey and the wind for that.”

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