Thomas Falls in Title Round of Skills Challenge

Marc D'Amico
Team Reporter and Analyst

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TORONTO – Isaiah Thomas was one 3-pointer away from taking the Taco Bells Skills Challenge trophy home to Boston.

Instead, he’s left Air Canada Centre with an empty feeling after falling to big man Karl Anthony-Towns in the championship round.

“I would’ve been fine losing to a guard. I’m low-key – I’m upset right now,” Thomas said with a smile after the challenge came to an end. “I lost to a big. I let the guards down.”

The Skills Challenge is an obstacle course that tests a player’s dribbling, passing and shooting skills. This year’s Challenge was the first to pit guards against big men in the championship round.

The obstacle course has four different stages. First, each player must navigate three quarters of the court while dribbling and zig-zagging around stationary obstacles. They then must toss a lengthy chest-pass through a tight circle, grab a ball on the baseline and take it the length of the court in the other direction for a layup. Lastly, they must dribble back to the other end of the court and make a 3-pointer from the top of the key.

Thomas defeated his first two opponents, Emmanuel Mudiay and C.J. McCollum, respectively, with ease as he motored his way through the obstacle course. He nailed both passes during the first two rounds, which he said set him up for success.

“Once you make the pass for the first time, I think it gives you a little bit of room for error for missing a couple of jumpers,” Thomas said. “I just knocked the pass down and then just finished the play.”

Anthony-Towns proved to offer a bit more competition than Thomas’ first two challengers.

Thomas pulled out to an early lead in the championship round purely by way of speed. He and Anthony-Towns navigated the obstacles with ease as they dribbled up the court, but Thomas was just ahead of Minnesota’s big man as they both nailed their first chest-pass attempt.

The two players were neck-and-neck as they went to the other end of the court and put home their layups. Thomas jokingly cut Anthony-Towns off as he went in for a left-handed layup from the right side of the basket.

“I needed to go in with my left,” he joked. “My first two layups (both right-handed) were shaky.”

The players sprinted to the other end of the court and began firing from long range at nearly the exact same time. Each player missed his first two shots, but Anthony-Towns was firing away at rapid speed. In the end, Thomas saw that fact as the difference in the challenge.

“He was shooting so fast,” said Thomas. “I was like, ‘I’m not about to waste a shot with our balls hitting each other.’ So I was just trying to time it and I just timed it wrong.“

Anthony-Towns attempted four 3-pointers to Thomas’ two. The big man connected on his fourth shot before Thomas could let his third attempt fly.

Thomas walked away from the loss with a smile but did note that a change could be made to improve the Skills Challenge. Although the both players started and ended the obstacle course at the same ends of the court, and that fact led to some fun drama down the home stretch, the layout did lead to some issues.

As Thomas noted, players had to avoid each other if they attempted their layups at the same time. If they reached the 3-point challenge at the same time, they also were forced to wait for their competitor to release their shot before shooting their own.

Thomas suggested that the NBA have each competitor start and end at opposite ends of the court during next year’s competition so that they will not be in each other’s way at any point.

And you can bet that Thomas wants to be in the middle of the action should a change be made.

“I definitely want to do it again,” he said. “I want to do it until I win.”