HORSE fills void during NBA shutdown

Nobody could have predicted that HORSE, the playground game, would be a hot topic and the most-hyped hoops competition on Easter Sunday.

Strange days, indeed.

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown or postponement of nearly every basketball league around the world, the made-for-TV relaunch of HORSE, featuring eight current and past NBA and WNBA players, grabbed the Sunday spotlight. ESPN televised the action, and it was also shown on the global sports giant’s app.

It was the opening day of action for the 2020 NBA HORSE Challenge, with the following matchups: Trae Young vs. Chauncey Billups, Tamika Catchings vs. Mike Conley, Zach LaVine vs. Paul Pierce, and Chris Paul vs. Allie Quigley. Take a look at highlights of the first two pairings here and the third and fourth pairings here.

HORSE quarterfinals

Instead of this octet squaring off in the same gym, the NBA’s revamped version of HORSE featured four one-on-one, single-elimination virtual battles.

For instance, Young and Billups competed from separate outdoor courts, with their and images and voices seen and heard via modern technology.

Before one shot attempt, Billups blurted out, “Top of the key, off the glass.” The ball sailed through the net without hitting the backboard or touching the nylon.

“I should’ve called no rim on that,” Billups insisted.

Young missed his next shot, his fifth after a Billups bucket, and was eliminated.

In other words, he was the HORSE.

“That’s a way to respect your elders, Trae,” said Billups, who finished with HOR.

Conley followed by beating Catchings, HORSE-H.

Lavine then buried Pierce, earning a hardwood shutout — HORSE-0.

Quigley and Paul wrapped up the quarterfinals, with the latter losing HORSE-HOR.

Colorful commentary

The Guardian’s Hunter Felt chronicled the action in a live blog, and spelled out Pierce’s doom this way:

“Pierce brings out a scooter. Is he planning to introduce props into the equation here? He may not get the opportunity here. LaVine forces Pierce to take a way long three-pointer, out beyond the confines of the court and into the grass and he can’t make it. Pierce is eliminated. LaVine did not get a single letter.”

What’s at stake

The HORSE semifinals and finals are set for Thursday.

Billups vs. Conley and Lavine vs. Quigley are the semifinal matchups.

The tournament’s $200,000 purse is earmarked for charities providing support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HORSE rules

In the traditional playground game, the two or more HORSE contestants are required to say what shot they are going to take, and how they are going to take it (example: bank shot) before shooting the ball.

To start things off, the first player sets the tone for the game.

If player A makes his shot, player B must attempt the same exact shot. If he misses, he has an “H.” If player B makes a shot, his foe must replicate the move.

The object of the game is to make your opponent miss five times after a made/called shot.

A second miss after a foe’s bucket pins an “O” on the shooter, then an R,” and so on.

You want to avoid receiving all five letters (H-O-R-S-E), because the first person to get them loses the game. Competition continues until all but one shooter are eliminated.

*Detailed instructions are posted here:

Fun competition

Unlike a game, which is often ruled by rigidity and set plays, nothing, technically, is off limits in HORSE (though dunks are sometimes banned).

Which is why it’s appealing to players.

“The simplicity of HORSE is what makes it such a favorite among amateur basketball players,” Dan Bernstein wrote on the Sporting News website. “Competitors take turns attempting shots from anywhere on the court, often with tricks mixed in, with the objective being to force an opponent into an effort they can’t convert.”

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