- Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus series
- Formerly a consultant with the Indiana Pacers
- Developed WARP rating and SCHOENE system
Four players remain in the NBA HORSE Challenge after a first round that saw Atlanta Hawks All-Star Trae Young, 2020 Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings, 2008 NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce, and Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Chris Paul all get knocked out of the tournament.
That sets up a final four that will include 2004 NBA FInals MVP Chauncey Billups taking on ambidextrous Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley Jr. and athletic Chicago Bulls shooting guard Zach LaVine facing sharpshooting Chicago Sky All-Star Allie Quigley.
The semifinals and championship will air April 16, beginning at 9 p.m. ET, also on ESPN and streaming on the ESPN App.
MORE: How to watch the NBA HORSE Challenge
Trae Young vs. Chauncey Billups
Billups (HOR) defeats Young
Billups Analysis (Grade: B+)
“Mr. Big Shot” started slowly, earning two letters in his first four shots and falling behind HOR to nothing before finding his legs. From there on, Billups’ variety of 3-pointers — two of them bankers from the top of the key, one of them off one leg and the last from the corner out of bounds — proved too much for Young to match.
Young Analysis (Grade: B-)
Among ESPN’s panel of writers, Young was the heavy pre-tournament favorite to win it all because of his distance shooting. So it was a surprise to see him miss four 3-pointers on his way out in the opening round. With the score tied at HOR apiece, Young missed his last two shots — the underhanded one-hand free throw and a 3 off glass from the top of the key, sending him packing.
Tamika Catchings vs. Mike Conley Jr.
Conley Jr. (H) defeats Catchings
Conley Jr. Analysis (Grade: A)
Conley announced his presence as a serious contender to win this tournament thanks to two big advantages: his off-hand dominance and an indoor gym in his Columbus home. Though primarily left-handed, Conley prefers to shoot floaters with his right hand, and he picked up four of the five letters on “off hand” shots. It didn’t hurt that Conley was in controlled conditions indoors while Catchings was dealing with wind and the elements outside. However, Conley also showed off a classic HORSE trick shot going over the backboard from behind on the run — with his off hand, of course.
Catchings Analysis (Grade: D+)
HORSE doesn’t showcase the best aspects of the versatile game that landed Catchings in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, and a tough draw meant we learned that Catchings’ off hand is not especially strong. When Catchings did have control of the game, her shots weren’t difficult for Conley to match, and he ended the game with only an H.
Zach LaVine vs. Paul Pierce
LaVine defeats Pierce (flawless)
LaVine Analysis (Grade: A)
Though dunking is prohibited in this competition, LaVine still found a way to take advantage of the athleticism that made him the NBA’s dunk champion in 2015 and 2016, tapping the backboard with the ball and finishing on the other side of the rim twice and then doing a left-hand layup getting above the rim without touching it. That earned two of Pierce’s letters, but LaVine also showcased his deep shooting ability and finished the game with a shot all the way off his concrete court and from the dirt.
Pierce Analysis (Grade: D)
Shot making was a key part of Pierce’s 10 career All-Star appearances, but it deserted him in this competition as he knocked down just five total shots and didn’t draw a single letter on LaVine.
Chris Paul vs. Allie Quigley
Quigley (HOR) defeats Paul
Quigley Analysis (Grade: A-)
At one point during their competition, Paul remarked that all he was hearing from Quigley’s backyard hoop were swishes. Paul heated up late, opening the door for him to come back from an HORS to H deficit, but Quigley slammed it shut with a bank free throw. In addition to pure shot making from the perimeter, the two-time WNBA 3-Point Contest winner also showed off more classic HORSE tricks than anybody else involved in the competition, including a bank shot from the ground that drew one of Paul’s letters.
Paul Analysis (Grade: B)
As compared to the other first-round losers, Paul put up a stiffer fight, drawing three letters on Quigley and denying her the winning shot with three matches after getting to HORS. Ultimately, a slow start cost Paul, and it must have been painful for a 90% free throw shooter to lose at the line when he was unable to bank home his attempt.
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