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Jrue’s Greatest Holiday Hits: Saying goodbye to a New Orleans favorite

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A definitive ranking of the former Pelican’s most festive performances

NBA: MAY 06 Western Conference Semifinals Game 4 - Warriors at Pelicans Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Earlier this week, what had been rumored to be in the works for months had finally become official: Jrue Holiday had been traded away from the New Orleans Pelicans. The seven seasons he suited up for will not ultimately be remembered for much team success, but that is not to say that there aren’t memories worth celebrating.

Every day is worthy of celebration when your family bears a name as festive as his, but calendars are marked each year with days that add even more meaning to the mix. Seven calendars worth of holidays were flipped through during Jrue’s New Orleans tenure, and by my wildly unofficial count, he suited up for 33 games that overlapped with some other cultural significance. Ranking them from worst to best (with the help of Basketball-Reference’s Game Score metric) may not be the most flattering send-off for the former franchise cornerstone, but in terms of fit, there may be no better exercise.

#33 - My Birthday, 2020 (Game Score: 0.7)

It is only natural that the selfish inclusion of my birthday in this exercise would wind up setting the floor for the performances to come. On February 4 of this year, the league-best Milwaukee Bucks took care of business against a Pelicans team that may as well have forgotten to leave the locker room after halftime. Jrue struggled mightily, making just three of his 14 shots and coughing up the ball four times in under 30 minutes. A 42-7 opponent wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, but a better effort from my favorite player would have, at the very least, helped the celebratory cookies and milk go down a bit easier.

#32 - Groundhog Day, 2020 (Game Score: 3.0)

Just two days prior to me turning 24, Holiday’s struggles from deep in the forth quarter (including missing two of three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt) culminated in a 16-point final frame that all but doomed the Pelicans against James Harden and the Houston Rockets. Ironically, these back-to-back duds from the former All-Star were sandwiched between a pair of three-game win streaks, each of which contributed to the Pelicans season-best 8-3 run in the run-up to the All-Star Break. It’s not every day you get a chance to play on Groundhog Day for three straight years, but Jrue really must have been scared of his shadow for this one.

#31 - Veterans Day, 2017 (Game Score: 3.1)

Seven points and six turnovers from Jrue, and yet, a win for the Pelicans! Big shooting performances from Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and E’Twaun Moore (and a very poor 9-27 one from the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin) helped New Orleans eke out a victory in what is just one of two Veterans Day games on this list.

#30 - Christmas, 2015 (Game Score: 3.8)

Despite donning special-edition Christmas jerseys for the first and only time in franchise history, the Holiday spirit just wasn’t there against the Heat. The combined first-and-third quarter point total of 29 is chill inducing even now, and the shock that the Pelicans somehow got this game to overtime and didn’t reach 90 points has yet to settle. Jrue coming off the bench was commonplace this season as he worked his way back from injury, and while a 4-9 showing from the field isn’t a disaster, he did little else to make an impact during his 27 minutes of play.

#29 - Mardi Gras, 2020 (Game Score: 3.9)

The Pelicans City Edition jerseys make their way onto the court more than once per season, but a boost on the night of Mardi Gras would have been welcome. Alas, the future NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and this LeBron James fellow, with 40 points to his name, was just too much. Jrue and Davis went toe-to-toe in a showdown to see who could miss the most shots, and the former 1st overall pick won this tight battle 15 (6-21) to 14 (5-19). Seeing Zion Williamson on the court with James was electric and a strong scoring night from Brandon Ingram kept this one close, but another weak effort from the lead guard kept the “Upset Alert” button untouched.

#28 - Election Day, 2014 (Game Score: 4.4)

Operation Ground and Pound was about as effective as it ever was during this, the earliest game on this list. The Memphis Grizzlies held the Pelicans to just 81 points, but the fault wasn’t all Jrue’s; Omer Asik and Ryan Anderson cobbled together just 13 points on 21 shots, which is tough to come back from. Future Pelican Tony Allen had a double-double in this game, which is kind of neat. This was also the first election day that I was able to vote, and based on what game comes next in the list, I’m starting to think that any personal milestone of mine is just a disaster waiting to happen for Jrue and company.

#27 - My Birthday, 2017 (Game Score: 4.5)

Heading into the fourth quarter of this February 4 matchup, the Pelicans led by three points. Twelve minutes later, they’d only scored eight more points, and the Washington Wizards were walking back to their locker room feeling good about a 14-point victory. An eight-point quarter! I almost certainly watched this game, but the memory of it had been locked away in a Gringotts-equivalent vault of my brain until unearthing it for this piece. Jrue was only two assists away from a triple-double, which isn’t nothing, but something that is nothing is the total points New Orleans scored in the last 5:52 of the game. YIKES.

#26 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2017 (Game Score: 5.9)

For some time this fall, it appeared that 2021’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day could have marked the start of the next NBA regular season. Those plans have since shifted, but if recent history is any indication, the Pelicans will still be in action on the holiday honoring the civil rights leader. In four of the past five seasons, New Orleans has been in action on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and three of those four contests came against the Grizzlies.

The lone exception was the 2017 matchup against the Indiana Pacers, which the Pelicans lost 98-95. Jrue’s five turnovers weren’t the brightest red flags in the box score, and he likely had a part to play in Paul George’s putrid shooting performance, but even an average showing would likely have been enough to leave Indiana with a win.

#25 - New Year’s Eve, 2015 (Game Score: 6.2)

An abysmal 10-22 run in the 2015 part of the 2015-16 season ended with a game in which the Pelicans top two scorers were Ryan Anderson (17 points) and Norris Cole (15 points). That New Orleans went on to lose that game to the Clippers 95-89 should be no surprise. Jrue’s scoring output (11 points) was almost doubled by his recent-but-now-former teammate JJ Redick, who led all scorers with 26 points.

#24 - Read Across America Day, 2016 (Game Score: 7.2)

Every year on March 2, each of the classes in my tiny suburban New Jersey elementary school would sit out along the walls in our hallways and read a book for some pre-determined amount of time. I remember sitting there reading something very academic, like a guidebook for Super Mario Sunshine, for what felt like hours at a time, but which was most definitely no more than 30 minutes. Free chocolate milk was provided, too, and what more could you ask for from a holiday?

Well, whatever the Pelicans wound up asking from theirs was not enough, as Jrue and company fell to the Rockets 100-95. A 5-13 shooting performance off the bench and a 1-7 showing from three-point range was far from Caldecott-worthy, and certainly not enough to counter James Harden’s 39 points.

#23 - New Year’s Eve, 2014 (Game Score: 8.1)

I can say with a strong dose of confidence that the strangest noise I’ve ever made in a public setting came while watching this New Year’s Eve game unfold on my phone via ESPN’s GameCast. Tim Duncan scoring to send the game into overtime with just a second remaining was no shock; it was Tim Duncan! My reaction came after the Pelicans had lost in the extra period, when I learned that Asik had basically scored on his own team in the game’s most crucial moment. Jrue played in this game, and didn’t do all that great, but I refuse to acknowledge any number other than the two points Asik scored for the Spurs.

#22 - Veterans Day, 2019 (Game Score: 9.8)

Wearing number 11 on 11/11 is not as flawless a tactic as it may seem. Jrue’s 11 assists were a nice touch, but even getting to a triple-double with one more rebound wouldn’t have been able to salvage his 6-21 mark on field goals. Another 39 points from Harden (the second such showing of his in the last three entries on this list) were barely enough for Houston to squeak out a game that the struggling Pelicans made quite close.

#21 - Groundhog Day, 2019 (Game Score: 10.1)

#20 - Groundhog Day, 2018 (Game Score: 11.0)

Fear not, it’s not déjà vu. In back-to-back years, Jrue’s scoring touch floundered on Groundhog Day. A total of 69 points between Anthony Davis and E’Twaun Moore was a nice enough boost for the Pelicans to pull out a win in 2018, but not even the best of efforts from Jahlil Okafor and Ian Clark were enough to make up for Jrue’s 6-15 shooting against the Pacers a year later.

#19 - Halloween, 2015 (Game Score: 11.1)

Of the 11 holidays Jrue played at least two games during, Halloween’s average Game Score (16.2) was fourth-best. Jrue’s 22 points were good enough to be the third-highest total in the game. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, Stephen Curry dressed as reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry for the festivities. Curry’s 53 points on just 27 points were no trick, but they were quite the treat to behold.

#18 - Easter Sunday/April Fool’s Day, 2018 (Game Score: 13.5)

Though it pales in comparison to epic crossover events like that of Jessica Day meeting NYPD’s 99th Precinct or the Untitled Goose Game merch making its way to Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, the Easter Sunday/April Fool’s Day overlap in 2018 was still a calendrical force to be reckoned with. The box score from the contest between the Pelicans and the Oklahoma City Thunder on this day lacks any pizzazz that make it particularly memorable other than Russell Westbrook’s 26 points, 15 rebound and 13 assist triple-double, which as far as stat lines go is no joke.

#17 - My Birthday, 2016 (Game Score: 14.2)

You only turn 20 years old once, and Kobe Bryant took great care to ensure I would not be able to have my birthday cake and eat it, too. A three-point shot with under a minute to go doubled the Lakers’ lead from three to six after the Pelicans had the entire fourth quarter getting the game back within their reach. Bryant missed a free throw just a few seconds of game time later to keep the door to overtime open just a crack, but Jrue could not sink the long distance shot (which would have also put him at a solid 10-20 shooting for the game.)

#16 - Saint Patrick’s Day, 2018 (Game Score: 15.3)

Another upset was afoot in the Smoothie King Center thanks in part to Jrue’s 19 points and 8 assists, but it was once again the Rockets who managed to spoil the Pelicans’ holiday fun. Despite Harden and Chris Paul shooting a paltry 19-47 and Nikola Mirotic (2-8 on field goals, 1-5 on three pointers) being the only Pelican to shoot poorly, Houston managed to walk away with the pot of gold: their 55th win of the season.

#15 - Halloween, 2019 (Game Score: 15.5)

Okafor and Ingram had Denver Nuggets defenders scared silly throughout the Pelicans Halloween victory. Their 24 combined free throw attempts (and 19 makes) plus Jrue’s 19 points and seven-to-two assist to turnover ratio paced the team to their first victory of last season. The biggest scare of all is that New Orleans would have seven losses on their record before picking up their second win nine days later, but at the time, the win was as sweet as the best Halloween candy: a Reese’s Pumpkin (refrigerated, of course).

#14 - Game of Thrones Season Premiere, 2015 (Game Score: 16.8)

On April 12, 2015, millions of viewers around the world tuned into the first episode of Game of Thrones’ fifth season. After an electrifying finale to season four, the next chapter of the acclaimed series was must-watch television. I will refrain from potential spoilers because this is an innocent enough post, and we’re just trying to have some fun here.

My anticipation for that hour of television almost certainly absorbed my attention for the evening, which did not bode well for my Pelicans fandom. It was a shame for Jrue, who was wicked efficient on his way to 17 points (7-9 from the field, 3-3 from three), but per what is apparently a Pelicans holiday tradition, they lost to the Rockets.

#13 - Saint Patrick’s Day, 2017 (Game Score: 17.0)

But, the fifth time is apparently the charm for this list, because on March 17, 2017, the Pelicans finally claimed victory over their Southwest Division rivals, 128-112. Solomon Hill set a career high that still stands with 30 points on the heels of 6-9 shooting from long range plus eight makes in nine tries from the charity stripe. Jrue only logged 28 minutes and missed all five of his three-point tries, but 19 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks is the kind of well-rounded box score that typified Jrue’s potential as game-changing guard.

#12 - Read Across America Day, 2019 (Game Score: 17.8)

In 2017, Read Across America Day was rebranded to disassociate from Dr. Seuss, whose birthday marks the day of celebration. The famed author’s racist past was reason to start replacing his canonical works with more positive cultural representations for readers, especially children, a practice that has driven the celebration in recent years. Whether or not you have children of your own, consider supporting these storytellers and stories come March 2, 2021, especially if schools are not yet back to in-person instruction.

Pelicans basketball has only accompanied Read Across America Day twice in the last seven seasons, but this second instance was much more successful for Jrue and the team alike. Jrue led all scorers with 29 points on 23 shots to steal a game on the road from a Nuggets team that started the night with a 27-5 record. The atrocious shooting of the Denver backcourt is worth noting as well: six guards totaled just 22 makes on 63 attempts from the field. Not even Jrue’s worst Halloween performance was that spooky.

#11 - My Birthday, 2019 (Game Score: 17.9)

This was Jrue’s best performance during a birthday of mine, but even that was not enough to prevent his overall record on February 4s to fall to 0-4. It’s okay, though. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the top dogs in the league like... squints Darren Collison and the Indiana Pacers. Oof.

#10 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2019 (Game Score: 18.1)

Save for one rough showing back in 2017, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was on the opposite side of the Holiday holiday spectrum. His other three appearances on the day each fall into the top ten of this list, starting with this systematic dismantling of the Grizzlies on their home court. Jrue was one of four 20-point scorers in a lineup that was lacking an injured Anthony Davis, and what a unique foursome he, Okafor, Mirotic and Julius Randle were that night. Throw in 11 rebounds, 6 assists and a game-high 39 minutes played, and it becomes clear who the best player on the court was that night.

#9 - New Year’s Eve, 2018 (Game Score: 19.1)

New Year’s Eve demons of Asiks past were purged by a strong Pelicans showing to close out 2018. Asking Jrue, Randle and Darius Miller to combine for 80 points probably had worse odds than the Pelicans had in the Zion lottery, but it managed to work this time around. A special shout-out here to Cheick Diallo, who snagged nine rebounds and scored a single point in 15 minutes. His +7 bested Jrue’s +2, and I never wrote a farewell post for the big man who most recently roamed the paint for the Phoenix Suns. Sorry, Cheick. I hope we can still be friends.

T-#7 - Christmas Day, 2019 (Game Score: 19.4)

The grand finale to the NBA’s 2019 Christmas slate was supposed to feature Zion as he and the Pelicans attempted to upset the Nuggets. Denver started the season red-hot while an injured Zion had yet to take the floor. And yet, New Orleans managed to play spoiler all the same. Fans extracting every last drop of the basketball marathon on December 25 played witness to a 31-point performance from Ingram and six steals from Jrue that gave the Pelicans a crucial victory on the heels of another strong win against the Portland Trail Blazers just two days earlier. The win didn’t prove to be worth as much as it seemingly could have, but at least Jrue was able to make up for the mess that was his Christmas showing in 2015.

T-#7 - Election Day, 2018 (Game Score: 19.4)

The non-presidentialness of the Election Day in 2018 won’t do much to help fans remember the context of this game, but it was a strong showing from Jrue nonetheless. His six turnovers look bad when it becomes clear that turnovers and the extra shots they created were just about the only differentiating factor in this contest, but 14 assists and 22 points on 13 shots ensured that the blame for this loss would not be on him. Randle’s perfect 10-10 from the field for 26 points led all scorers, but even that historic production wasn’t enough to eke out the victory against a Thunder team with both of its stars off of their games (Westbrook shot 6-16; George shot 6-17). If I had a vote, I’d have dropped this game out of the tie with Christmas Day 2019, and listed it at Number 8. Alas, my mail-in ballot has yet to arrive (come on, Oleh!)

#6 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2016 (Game Score: 20.6)

Jrue’s first Martin Luther King Jr. Day showing was his second best, but even 23 points and 9 assists off the bench couldn’t keep the Grizzlies at bay. Jeff Green and Matt Barnes each contributing 16 points off the bench a piece has not aged well at all. The shiniest stat line, even moreso than Jrue’s was Mike Conley’s. The former Grizzlies star had a 15 point-10 assist night with zero turnovers, which any fan would spend at minimum 10 minutes gawking over. Jrue’s layup with just four seconds to go brought the game to within one, but a Marc Gasol offensive rebound on a missed free throw just moments later clinched the game. A win here plus the three that really did follow would have had the Pelicans on a six-game winning streak with the playoffs finally becoming a possibility, but four straight losses quickly sent the team back to reality. In that reality, Jrue was still a force to be reckoned with, but his teammates simply didn’t have enough in the tank.

#5 - Halloween, 2018 (Game Score: 21.9)

I was tuned into the game, late that night

When my eyes beheld an eerie sight

For Jrue’s trips up to the line, began to rise

And suddenly to my surprise

They swished like cash, he did the free throw dash

The free throw dash, he was like young Swin Cash

He did the dash, but Steph scored in a flash

He did the dash, but the Pels lost the clash...

#4 - Valentine’s Day, 2018 (Game Score: 25.6)

Pelicans fans who splurged on tickets for Valentine’s Day at the Smoothie King Center in 2018 likely went home lovestruck by the product they saw out on the floor. A 24-point, 11-assist double-double on just 19 shots and with only two turnovers was a rock-solid night for Jrue. He played a perfect second fiddle to an unstoppable Davis, who scored a ridiculous 42 points on 18 shots. The top three minutes-getters for Los Angeles were future Pelicans Randle, Ingram and Josh Hart. each of whom had fairly solid nights in their own right. When Davis and Holiday clicked like this in unison, though, they were a tough group to handle. It’s disappointing that it didn’t happen more often over the years, but we will savor the instances like this that it did.

#3 - Chinese New Year, 2016 (Game Score: 25.8)

February 8, 2016, marked both the flipping of the Chinese Lunar Calendar and an instance in which a blazing-hot Jrue came off the bench to help New Orleans trounce the hosting Minnesota Timberwolves. He played 28 minutes, scored 27 points, tallied 9 assists and turned the ball over just once to break a four-game losing streak. A record of 19-32 is only slightly better than 18-33 (a winning percentage difference of .02 to be precise), but considering how poorly this 2015-16 season has been represented on this list, further celebration is in order.

#2 - Valentine’s Day, 2019 (Game Score: 26.0)

The better of two-game Valentine’s Day punch that Jrue packed in 2018 and 2019 came in a truly classic showdown with the Thunder on the road. Westbrook and George carved their way to 72 points, but Jrue’s 32 and Randle’s 33 paced the Pelicans successful upset effort. This contest kicked off the weird period after Davis’ desire for a trade had been made clear that he was playing just a few minutes per game, but it seemed for a while that this could be his last appearance in a New Orleans uniform. After injuring his shoulder earlier in the final contest before the All-Star Break, Davis was seen leaving the arena while the game was still in action. It remains an incredibly tough look for the former franchise cornerstone, but it made the eventual win over this playoff-bound Western Conference team as invigorating as it was surprising, and was just one of many such performances for Jrue and company between that point and the end of the season.

#1 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2020 (Game Score: 28.2)

It’s a tragedy that each of Jrue’s final three holiday games can be found in the bottom five of this list, but at least his fourth most recent, his grand Martin Luther King Jr. Day finale, was as impressive as they come. He shot 7-10 from three-point range en route to 36 points on 18 field goal attempts and played a big part in keeping eventual Rookie of the Year Ja Morant in check (5-14 field goal shooting).

Though this game was played nearly an entire year before he was traded, it represents in a way the final entry in the Jrue Holiday era of New Orleans basketball. The next time the Pelicans took the floor, Zion made his NBA debut and electrified the league with a 17-point outburst for the ages. From that point, it has been Zion’s team.

When I think back on Jrue’s time in New Orleans, I’ll remember his passing of the torch after this dominant showing against some of the league’s best young players. I’ll remember his jaw-dropping playoff series against Portland in 2018 and the immortal point at Jusuf Nurkić that accompanied it. I’ll remember the GIFs that he and his family of Lauren and Jrue Tyler gave us at times...

...as well as the gifts they gave to communities across the country. I’ll remember the seasons that didn’t quite go as planned, and the team-based expectations that were often left unmet, too. More than anything, I’ll remember the joy of watching him, be it on a holiday or otherwise, on a nightly basis. It wasn’t always pretty, but the payoff when it was was always worth it, because no Pelicans player’s success has been easier to root for than Jrue’s.

Though his playing days in New Orleans have likely come to a close, his jersey could one day find itself back in the Smoothie King Center. Retiring number 11 would ensure that Pelicans teams for years to come inherit some of the celebrated Holiday spirit.

Don’t you miss him already?

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @NolaYanks2740.