Apr 14, 2018; Portland, OR, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) drives past Portland Trail Blazers guard Wade Baldwin IV (2) during the first half in game one of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center.

USA Today Sports

These playoffs could be Jrue Holiday’s national coming out party

Seth Dunlap
April 16, 2018 - 7:07 pm
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It’s becoming increasingly clear that no player in the NBA is more underrated currently than Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who may not be the best player in the Pelicans-Blazers opening round playoff series but he just might be the most important.   The nation is finding out just how impactful he can be on both sides of the court.

The headlines coming into this series were dominated by league superstars Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard.  Rightfully so, as both players will likely land somewhere in the Top 6 of the NBA MVP vote after each put their teams on their backs in carrying them to a playoff berth in a historically competitive Western Conference.  Yet it’s Jrue Holiday who played the most critical role in last Saturday’s win by the Pelicans, capped off by a game saving highlight reel block that had shades of the all-timer from LeBron in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals.

After missing his first three shot attempts in the opening minutes, Holiday would go 10-17 from the floor the rest of the game, scoring 21 points while chipping in seven rebounds.  However, it's not on that end of the floor where he proves his incredible value.

Holiday was tasked with guarding Lillard for most of the contest, something he’s used to as he’s routinely matched up against the oppositions best scoring guard.   Routinely, he shuts those guys down.

That’s exactly what happened on Saturday, with Lillard shooting an abysmal 6-23 from the floor for just 18 points.  That wasn’t a fluke.  Lillard shot just 23/63 (36%) in his first three games against the Pelicans this season, with Holiday provided most of the defense.  It was even worse from three point range, with Lillard connecting on just 7/30 attemps (23%). 

Those struggles were mitigated a bit in the fourth quarter of the Blazers final regular season matchup against the Pelicans, when Lillard pumped in 20 points in the final frame at the Smoothie King Center to help will his team to a come from behind win.  Yet, if there’s a fluke then that was it.  The standard has been Holiday turning Lillard into an also-ran, rather than the All-NBA player he usually is.

Holiday has consistently done this against some of the league’s best guards this season.   The advanced analytics will say that he has established himself among the league’s best.  The eyeball test will tell you the same.

I echo those people who say that he should be a lock for NBA All-Defensive 1st Team this season.   It would be a nothing but a snub if he’s not on that list. 

While it’s his defense that makes him so special, he’s having the best offensive season of his career, averaging career highs in FG percentage (49.4%) and points per game (19.0).  He’s also averaging a career high 4.5 rebounds per game.

Not many people would have predicted this last summer, when the Pelicans were negotiating a new contract with Holiday.   Many fans scoffed at the new five year, $126 million deal he received.  He was viewed by many in the fan base as a perennially underachieving player, one they saw who had great promise, but that was mostly unfulfilled to that point.   

I’d say he’s definitively answered the question as to whether he was worth that new deal.

The Pelicans don’t grab many headlines nationally.  That’s especially true for their players, outside of the all-world Anthony Davis.  However, this post season it’s Jrue Holiday emerging as perhaps the most critical component of the team’s success. 

Holiday is having a coming out party on the national stage, and he seems to be enjoying the heck out of it. 

 

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