Well, at least the NBA’s H-O-R-S-E competition was enough of a train wreck to be entertaining. Or as entertaining as something has to be these days for you to not flip the channel. The low-definition, truncated, slow-paced competition got underway Sunday night with a first round that saw Chauncey Billups come back to beat Trae Young, Mike Conley oust Tamika Catchings, Zach LaVine sweep Paul Pierce, and Allie Quigley edge out Chris Paul.
Before the semifinals and finals take place Thursday night, here are the best, worst, and the laggiest from the debut of NBA H-O-R-S-E:
Worst Internet Connection: Mark Jones
The opening shot of Sunday’s broadcast was a strange angle of Mark Jones sitting inside a dimly lit room in his Miami home with Dwyane Wade and Matt Barnes (??) jerseys hanging in the background. It took a few minutes to make those things out because Jones’s internet connection wasn’t exactly crystal clear. Maybe the router was acting up, fine—but let’s at least get my guy some natural light, please!
It wasn’t just Jones whose connection was choppy. Most players seemed to cut out at least once in what was a prerecorded event. In some ways, it’s understandable. Social distancing rules likely prevented ESPN from sending actual cameras and camerapeople to these players’ houses. This resulted in the occasional lag and tough visuals, but also some funny gags: Tamika Catchings’s kid was backed up against the garage door filming on an iPad. Someone scurried across Chauncey Billups’s court with a phone to make sure they got a behind-the-shot angle. It was all extremely homemade, but not quite charming or useful. Players couldn’t really see the other players’ shots, for example. And at some points, you couldn’t even tell whether the shot went in. I’m not sure whether there’s a way to get the players’ better connections by Thursday, but it would sure help the quality of the experience.
Best Shot: Allie Quigley and Chris Paul (Tie)
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you have to explain a H-O-R-S-E shot in a full sentence, it’s probably a good one.
From a skill standpoint, the Quigley-Paul game was the best match of the day. Both Quigley and Paul actually looked interested in playing H-O-R-S-E, creating abnormal shots that you wouldn’t see in a regular game. Quigley sat on her driveway and made a bank shot that Paul couldn’t replicate. Later, Paul stood with his back to the basket, grabbed his left leg and spun to shoot it with one hand. This time, Quigley was the one to miss. These two seemed to understand that things needed to be entertaining as well as competitive, and it showed from Quigley’s early-week trash-talking to Paul’s shot selection—one even involved his son, Chris Paul Jr.
Best Home Set-Up: Mike Conley’s Gigantic Gym
If you had happened to forget that Conley once signed a $153 million contract, the visual of him standing in his glossy echo chamber of a home gym was a good reminder. This place has to have its own zip code.
Mike Conley's gym is bigger than any house I've lived in pic.twitter.com/BpF7NuLjHd— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 12, 2020
If the league somehow manages to play the rest of this season, I now expect Conley to come in as the most prepared player given his fancy digs. Honestly, I would have rather taken a virtual tour of that gym than watch Conley try to make a right-handed free throw.
Worst Strategy: Trae Young’s Shot Selection and the Broadcast’s Matchups
At first glance, Trae’s inclusion in this competition made perfect sense. Trae himself tweeted out that he would be taking half-court shots, and Mark Jones mentioned it at the top of the broadcast. It quickly became clear, though, that Trae’s driveway hoop wasn’t regulation-sized, and his court wasn’t deep enough to even have a half court. Then he started shooting free throws … with his left hand … as his trick shot. Yeah. Even as he took a three-letter lead over Billups, he kept things dull—the opposite of what he’s like on an NBA court. So the basketball gods intervened, and Billups made a roaring comeback. I think blowing a 3-0 lead in anything NBA-related is history, so we are all witnesses today.
Beyond the choppy video, the worst decision the NBA and ESPN made was to kick things off with the Billups-Young matchup, which was clearly the worst of the bunch. If you didn’t hit the eject button on the whole thing early, then you got some entertainment value out of the other three matches. But if you did bounce, I can’t say I blame you. Hey, at least the graphics were cool!
Biggest Disadvantage: Tamika Catchings’s Weather
Catchings was matched up against Conley and his giant gym, so it seemed more than a little unfair that she had to play in her Indianapolis backyard where you could actually see the wind affect shots. At various points, Catchings blew on her hands to try to warm them up. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be surprised if Conley’s gym was always set to a perfect 70 degrees. Conley ended up winning, but I demand a rematch on a neutral court.
Most Creative at Finding a Rule Loophole: Zach LaVine
LaVine’s face-off against Paul Pierce was the funniest of the bunch. The matchup made no sense unless it was explicitly intended for comedy. LaVine couldn’t dunk, per the rules, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t incorporate every single acrobatic thing he does in a dunk into a shot instead. LaVine not only beat Pierce with this loophole, but I’m quite certain he nearly caused Pierce to pull a hamstring in the process. It wasn’t pretty:
Pierce never had a shot and got swept. Thankfully, though, he wasn’t boring.
Worst Court: Paul Pierce’s Celtics Green
The best part about LaVine beating Pierce is that we don’t have to stare at Pierce’s gaudy green court again. Look, the view from the L.A. hills is great, and the house itself looks nice, but the court has a giant Celtics logo on it and features two shades of greens—one dark and one neon—coloring the paint and the area beyond the 3-point line. Just thinking about it makes my head hurt.
Best Court: Chauncey Billups
Billups, who was playing at his house in Denver, had the best-looking court of the bunch. “Mr. Big Shot” was written on the baseline, there was a trampoline in the background, and best of all: The court was painted with two colors (black and red) that go well together. Take notes, Paul Pierce.
Most Iconic Fit: Paul Pierce
For all my gripes with Pierce’s court, his fit made up for it. Everything Pierce did in his matchup provided some much-needed unintentional comedy, but especially his outfit. Let’s start at the top: He had on an oversized, puffy Nike jacket like he was expecting there to be snow in L.A. He paired that with ill-fitting three-quarter-length Adidas soccer sweatpants. Pierce apparently doesn’t care about looking decent on TV—or about brand uniformity—and for that I respect him.
Nerdiest Line: Mike Conley Calling a Corner 3 a “High-Percentage Shot”
Sorry Mike, we’re not here for the analytics right now, especially when we can barely make out the 3-point lines on the video feed.