Even when there is no recognizable competition going on anywhere in the world, Atlanta still will find a way to inexplicably lose at something.
We have another epic collapse to report, one that will not quite match the blown 28-3 Super Bowl lead, but one that certainly reminds us of our place as the Homer Simpson of the sporting world.
If it means playing through a pandemic to keep that image fresh, so be it.
On Sunday, holding an H-O-R-to-nothing lead in the quarterfinals of the “NBA HORSE Challenge,” the Hawks’ Trae Young lost to 43-year-old Chauncey Billups, whose last meaningful shot came in 2014. The event’s betting favorite – God help us, there was one – would go cold shooting on his driveway court in Oklahoma, sticking not another letter on Billups while himself spelling out H-O-R-S-E with his misses and fading into elimination.
“That’s the way to respect your elders, Trae,” Billups proclaimed, issuing the mildest kind of smack befitting a less-than-serious occasion.
This all came as part of an ESPN creation to gin up some kind of game, elevating to nationally televised prominence a playground standard of two people matching shots – a letter added each time to the one who fails. First to spell out H-O-R-S-E loses. It can be a very inclusive game, as demonstrated by the brackets for this challenge that included both men and women, professionals past and present.
Being the one in the field most known for his outrageous shooting ability, for having far more range than conscience, Young was the clear favorite to win the whole thing. Shooting seemed but a formality, this being an exercise so tailored to his gifts. Against Billups, he was a little more than a 2-to-1 favorite.
Because of social-distancing needs, players shot from their own home courts. The production quality was spotty. From long distance, the banter was strained. Just be thankful they chose not to play H-I-P-P-O-P-O-T-A-M-U-S.
Young bolted to the quick three-letter lead. Back in Denver, Billups was reeling. Ah, but we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen Georgia poised to put away Alabama – twice. We’ve watched the Braves squander their sizable World Series advantage against the Yankees in 1996. As for the Falcons, well, you know. We saw it coming. Scale all that way, way down – and then scale it down some more – and there’s Young’s H-O-R-S-E horror.
Billups began resorting to underhanded tactics. Literally so. He got Young to H-O-R-S on a one-hand, underhand flip from the free-throw line. Then put him away by calling bank from the top of the key, canning it, and Young unable to answer. There’s the first play-by-play I’ve written in a month, and it’s to chronicle a driveway game. Pride has officially left the arena.
Likewise, it has been too long between second-guesses. You’re Trae Young, you just don’t give up a three-letter lead; it can’t happen. He yielded the advantage of shooting first a little too readily. He relied on gimmick rather than his superior range: The behind-the-backboard shot let him down. And what was with calling all-net? Just make the shot, whether it touches rim, and move on.
There, I needed that.
Were real horses involved in this event, Sunday would have been the equivalent of the jockey falling off his mount just before the finish line with a 10-length lead. As long as the horse’s name was A-Town or Peachtree Street.
Thus, a starved Atlanta audience will have no horse in this race as it advances to the semifinals. A chance to cheer again, regardless of how flimsy, has been cut short.
And Young has fallen well short himself in what is likely to be his best chance of winning a title of any sort in the foreseeable future.
The sportswriter, meanwhile, awaits the next chance to report on a fabrication. Something along the lines of The MLB Pepper Challenge.
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