Utah’s Mike Conley wins NBA’s H-O-R-S-E Challenge as live sports returns amid pandemic

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Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley Jr. wins the NBA’s first ever H-O-R-S-E Challenge on ESPN recently. Valley News/AC Sports photo

With the NBA season suspended during the coronavirus outbreak, it was good for the nation to see some version of live sports as Mike Conley Jr. of the Utah Jazz won ESPN’s live H-O-R-S-E Challenge, beating Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine in the championship match Thursday, April 16.

The network teamed up with the NBA, WNBA and some notable alumni in the televised competitive game of H-O-R-S-E, which is played by two people on a basketball court with the idea of matching baskets. The player who makes shots that the opponent does not duplicate wins the game. The game continues until one person accumulates the five letters that spell out H-O-R-S-E.

In the semifinals, which also aired Thursday, Conley, who was playing from an indoor gym in Columbus, Ohio, finished off NBA alumni Chauncey Billups with a two-handed underhand free throw. Billups was the 2004 NBA Finals MVP. Playing outdoors in Snohomish, Washington, LaVine ousted WNBA star Allie Quigley, who was playing in Deerfield, Illinois. Quigley, one of the WNBA’s best three-point shooters, could not match some of the more dazzling athletic shots and had to remind LaVine that he made 13 three-pointers in a game earlier this season. LaVine did not take the bait and eventually finished off his Chicago hoopster counterpart.

“It was so much fun,” Quigley said afterward. “It was such a good experience.”

In the finals, Conley quickly got ahead of LaVine with H-O, the second letter coming when Conley made a free throw with both his eyes closed while LaVine missed his matching attempt.

“It was a fun environment to be a part of,” Conley said while challenging LaVine of the Chicago Bulls. “This gave us all something to do at a time we’re all sitting around the house.”

LaVine, later was at H-O-R and within one letter after Conley missed a three-point bank from the top of the key. But Conley converted back-to-back shots, the second a running hook shot over the backboard that LaVine was unable to match, saddling with him H-O-R-S-E.

“You deserve that championship, I’ll let you know that,” LaVine said after falling short. “I did everything I could. I got a real tough opponent in the championship game, and he had some tricks I had not seen before.”

In the end, it all came down to giving sports fans something to watch, and of course, it was about making shots.

“It was good to see another current NBA player in the finals,” Conley expressed afterward on ESPN. “It kind of brought a sense of the season back to us both during a time when live sports is desperately needed.”

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.