When the name Jrue Holiday is brought up, the first words that come to mind are “Defense” and “Underrated” which is why his 51-point outburst in the Milwaukee Bucks’ 149-136 win against the Indiana Pacers still caught many by surprise.
Indeed, Holiday’s name has become synonymous with defense during his 14-year NBA stint. He is averaging 1.5 steals through his 902 career games and most acknowledge him as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, not just today, but over the past decade. This has earned him four All-NBA Defensive Team nods and it could be argued that this number is still far too low given the impact that he has had.
Holiday has inevitably flown under the radar because of his defense-first approach and this is proven by his measly two NBA All-Star game appearances, with the second only coming last February. The fact that he started off his career on the pre-Process Philadelphia 76ers, with whom he earned his first NBA All-Star nod, and the perennially middling New Orleans Pelicans did not make it any easier for him to become a household name.
However, a four-team trade last November 2020 that sent Holiday to Milwaukee via finally put the League Pass fan favorite in the national spotlight. Holiday made an instant impact as he helped the Bucks win the 2021 NBA title in his first year with the team where he put up 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 9.3 assists, and 2.2 steals in his NBA Finals debut.
While they were unable to defend their crown in 2022, Milwaukee’s core has remained relatively intact and they are in prime position to retake the championship this year. The Bucks currently have the best record in the NBA at 55-21 with six matches left on their schedule and the three-game cushion that they have built over the Boston Celtics should be more than enough to virtually guarantee them the top spot at this point.
Holiday is a major reason for this success and the 17th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft has increased his points, rebounds, and assists numbers these past two campaigns culminating in per-game numbers this year of 18.9 points, five rebounds, and 7.3 assists along with 1.2 steals.
In his time with Milwaukee, Holiday has been asked to take on more scoring duties and it led to the first two 40-point outings of his career.
This season, Holiday has not shied away from the additional offensive responsibilities that he has had to take with Khris Middleton missing several games due to various ailments. His second 40-point performance came last February and he has also scored at least 31 points on five other occasions.
Given the form that he has shown on offense this year, it comes as no surprise that Holiday finally eclipsed the 50-point mark in the Bucks’ most recent outing. The 6’3 guard punished Indiana’s defenders throughout the contest as he scored 30 points in the paint en route to his 51-point masterpiece.
The UCLA product hit 20 of his 30 field goal attempts, including three-of-six three-pointers. He also hit eight-of-10 free throws and his improvement from the free throw line, where he is hitting 86.6% of his shots versus his career rate of 78.3%, has been a major catalyst for him this season.
In typical fashion, Holiday had a complete game as he also had eight rebounds, eight assists, a steal, and a block. What made this even more impressive was that he managed to do all of this in only 33 minutes of action.
With the playoffs just around the corner, Milwaukee should feel confident of their chances of making yet another deep run. The 32-year-old Holiday is playing the best basketball of his career and Giannis Antetokunmpo is providing another campaign worthy of his third NBA Most Valuable Player award. Middleton’s health will be a crucial variable that may hinder the Bucks, though their supporting cast has proven that they can step up when needed.
The rest of the league should take Holiday’s 51-point game as a warning shot that he is ready for the postseason and the road to the NBA title will have to go through Milwaukee. These Bucks have a championship pedigree and they should be treated as the favorites to win the championship this year until another team can prove otherwise.