While many of his NBA peers have been unable to get a single basketball shot up since the NBA suspended its season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Zach LaVine has been getting up hundreds, and he proved it Sunday night by shutting out Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce in the NBA's first HORSE Challenge on ESPN.
"I stay ready," the Chicago 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, Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz and Allie Quigley of the WNBA's Chicago Sky in the semifinals after he eliminated Pierce in their HORSE quarterfinal matchup without picking up a 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 on an outdoor hoop in her driveway in Indianapolis.
"This was a lot of fun," said Oklahoma City Thunder point guard and National Basketball Players Association 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 single-elimination HORSE competition to provide something competitive that could entertain fans at home with sports shelved because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The NBA suspended its season March 11, and this was the first 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 the competition was doing. Competitors also had a friend or family member use a handheld camera for an additional angle.
The semifinals and championship game will be televised at 9 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPN. 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. Although dunking was not allowed, LaVine used creative and athletic shots, such as a between-the-legs, underhand shot off the glass 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, to keep the retired Pierce off balance.
"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 Sky 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 step-back from the right side and bank shots from the right elbow and the free throw line. Her best shot came with her 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 Hawks guard Trae Young. Young, shooting from the driveway at 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 blew on 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 off-the-glass 3-pointer from the top of the key.
"That is the way to respect your elders, Trae," Billups said.
Young, known for his long-distance shots from near half court, tried mostly short-range shots and some from behind the backboard, but he 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 said. "It happens. The last shot [a 3-point bank shot from the top of the key], I'm going to blame Chauncey and the wind for that."