clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2018 NBA Playoffs: Jrue Holiday and New Orleans are in midst of enjoying last laugh at expense of Damian Lillard and Portland

After two memorable performances on the biggest of stages, the Pelicans starting shooting guard finally has the deserving attention of the national media.

NBA: Playoffs-New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

In common party etiquette, there’s such a thing as being “fashionably late.” Some purposefully plan it while others use it as an excuse for plain laziness. Why show up to a party on time just to be alone or disappointed?

When it comes to parties, no city in America throws one better than New Orleans. After a successful football season, NOLA sports is experiencing one more, and this time of the basketball variety. But this story involves so many more pitfalls and pessimistic surroundings that it’s often been hard to live in the present. It sometimes feels no matter the cause for celebration, national followers and local fans are either looking in the past or are too deep in the future.

How about now?

Well, as of today, the New Orleans Pelicans have pulled off one of the more unexpected, while most definitely impressive, playoff starts in recent memory. They’re up 2-0 on the favorite Portland Trail Blazers, who many predicted had the stronger team and better coach. Of course, the Pelicans had the consensus best overall player in Anthony Davis, but he supposedly just “didn’t have enough around him.”

Oh how the tides have turned.

As we stand today, Davis is getting assistance in ways even he probably couldn’t have imagined. One grand example of this occurred during the 4th quarter of Game 2 — Davis finshed with as many points as you and I did! Nikola Mirotic, Playoff Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday combined to score all of the 24 points in the final frame.

But one man is standing a little more prominently. Coming into the 2017-18 season, nearly everyone figured that Holiday was an overpaid, injury prone, third option at best. And while the criticism was slightly unfair, the negative remarks were hard to refute.

Jrue had always shown flashes during the course of his career, but there was always some thought that we hadn’t seen his best yet. The defense had long stretches of being spectacular, but the offense came and went far too often. Throw in the inconsistent aggression and shaky decision making, there was plenty of doubt he was the man for the looming responsible. With DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis sharing the court, the Pelicans were in need of someone who could find them with ease while providing his own points too.

Over the summer, the Pelicans failed to rein in a big name at shooting guard. Remember the pursuit of Nick Young? However, New Orleans quickly shifted gears and decided to sign an outspoken point guard, oft surrounded in controversy. In comes Rajon Rondo, the intelligent, fiesty, playmaking guard that had previously been on four teams in three years. The questions arose immediately.

“Does Rondo come off the bench?”

“Where does Jrue play?”

And most often, “Is there any semblance of a plan in New Orleans?”

NBA: Detroit Pistons at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It became clear in training camp that the plan was to start Rondo and spark the offense, and Jrue Holiday, at the two, in hopes of teasing out the aggressiveness that lay lurking within. Believers pointed to Holiday’s last season in Philadelphia as a prime example. During that campaign, he shared the ball with both Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala and the 76ers enjoyed a lot of success.

Moving off the ball allowed Holiday to pick his moments and find creative ways to score, without constantly being tasked with the responsibilities of the main ball handler. Yes, Holiday once played with Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon, but neither of those guys are true floor generals — possessing the wizardry of Rondo — which allowed Holiday to put all of his focus into scoring points.

And we’d be remiss without mentioning the fact that Holiday has finally been afforded a luxury most of us take for granted: rehabbing from an injury, or worse, enduring a family crisis. For the first time in years, life is good.

In his Game 2 press conference Holiday gave a glimpse of how his life off the floor has positively affected his play this season. Or simply as he put it, being “in really a good place.”

“I think once I surpassed everything with my family, and made sure that they were okay, things were definitely put into perspective that my family is most important to me.“ Holiday said. “Them being okay, I can come back to the team freely and be able to help them out now.”

Jrue delivered through a lot of personal hard work, and the team, by surrounding him with the right additions. Case in point, he just wrapped up a regular season where he missed one game (illness) and averaged 19.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds — the points and rebounds were new career-highs. He also posted the best true shooting percentage of his career at 57 percent, and the most win shares at 7.1.

So, why was he so overlooked after such a great year?

The national media is about headlines, and a story about possible Anthony Davis destinations quite frankly sells more to the average fan. Consequently, the bad narratives continued, even right up to the point before the start of the playoffs.

And then, playoff basketball was played and Jrue Holiday dominated the scene in Portland, helping the the Pelicans grab a 2-0 edge on the Trail Blazers. At the forefront: Holiday exerting his will over Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

And bottom line, this is just funny.

I hope the Stone Cold Steve Austin appearance didn’t lose you, because there’s a reason for it. The appreciation for Jrue Holiday doesn’t stop with his offensive acumen; his defense is what should win you over every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Holiday possesses the legs and conditioning of a soccer player (shout-out to Lauren!!!), the length of a great NFL cornerback, and the balance and patience of an elite running back. Also important, he has instincts you just can’t teach.

Remember those defensive back arms we talked about it?

For most players going up against a top-five point guard in the league, the first play above ends in either the drawing of a personal foul or earning an And-1 opportunity. For Jrue Holiday, it ended in a Trail Blazer whiff and a Pelican win.

As a matter of fact, all of Damian Lillard’s individual matchups against Holiday have so far ended very poorly in these playoffs.

Stretches like these have pushed head coach Alvin Gentry to question time and again if there’s a better healthy two-way player in the NBA. Recently, this question was posed by Rachel Nichols to the guys at ESPN’s The Jump.

In the beginning of the video, Nichols walks the cable and satellite subscription holders through the Pelicans’ season, highlighting the highs and lows. She then proceeds to get into Gentry’s comments above. Paul Pierce and Tracy McGrady take turns debating and names from Paul George, LeBron James, and Chris Paul were all brought up. They hesitate to name Holiday better than the bunch, but proclaim how impressed they are with his exploits.

Suddenly, the national media Holiday party feels a little stale, as a sort of leftover feeling seems to be emerging. While all of the players above are exceptional Hall of Fame worthy talents, neither of them have done what Holiday is currently doing: Completely locking down a bonafide MVP candidate on one side of the ball and imposing their will on the other.

Just when all hope seems lost, however, an unlikely source comes to the rescue.

Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman proceeded to both admit their wrongs yesterday in total disbelief of what they’re watching transpire in the Portland-New Orleans series. Kellerman even goes in depth about his failed Holiday criticism, exclaiming “I have slept on Holiday for too long!”

”It’s been years now,” continued Kellerman. “I knew he was a good defensive player, I thought he was okay offensively, I thought he was overrated. A guy who gets a lot of minutes and can pile up some numbers, but when you look at thr numbers across the board, he shoots it pretty well. He does everything pretty well. He is a great two-way combo guard.“

Another impressive nod to Holiday by Kellerman was his mention of Holiday’s on-the-ball pick and roll defense. According to Second Spectrum, he finished 2nd in the regular season in that category.

This effusive praise, however, doesn’t stop there. ESPN’s Jalen Rose showed plenty of love too, picking the Pelicans to advance in the series because they not only had Davis but he has help, unlike Giannis Antetokounmpo with the Bucks. Rose goes into detail below about why the Pels are up 2-0, featuring another exquisite take on Jrue Holiday.

And then we have Nick Wright, who famously proposed a Cavaliers DeMarcus Cousins trade before the season even kicked off.

No mention of that trade in this clip.

And we can’t forget to include two other prominent voices: Bill Simmons and Chris Broussard.

Wow, what a difference of four days can make, huh?

What would have been an empty party full of loyalists has now expanded to the popular crowd. This ride is fun but long overdue considering Holiday’s fantastic season. Hopefully, at end of this party, though, Holiday will come home with a deserving award or two, but more importantly to him — we call all be sure, would be snatching two more wins from the series against Portland and keep this suddenly special season going for awhile longer.