Jrue Holiday’s game has always been about substance rather than style, and his contributions in the past two wins against the Miami Heat speak for themselves.
Game 1 saw him take on more scoring opportunities as his 20 points, 11 rebounds, and three steals helped the Milwaukee Bucks secure a 109-107 overtime victory in Game 1. Holiday set the tone early by aggressively attacking the Heat defense and igniting fast breaks after defensive stops. Prior to Khris Middleton’s game-winner, it was also his coast-to-coast layup that put the Bucks ahead by three points, 107-104, with 39.3 seconds left in overtime.
Holiday took on a more pass-first role in Game 2 as he had a playoff career-high 15 assists to go with his 11 points, seven rebounds, and two steals in Milwaukee’s resounding 132-98 victory. The Bucks went with a more balanced attack and it resulted in a record 22 3-pointers in the rout. Middleton, Bryn Forbes, and Pat Connaughton combined for 14 3-pointers and Holiday, who had a 3-pointer to his name as well, helped set them up for a huge night.
While we’re just two games into the series between Milwaukee and Miami, the early returns have been promising and Holiday’s fingerprints were all over both victories. Because of that, the Bucks have looked like a much different team than the one that finished with the best record in the NBA last season but exited in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Heat.
In 59 regular season games, Holiday averaged 17.7 points (on .503/.392/.787 shooting splits), 4.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 1.6 steals. Milwaukee also went 5-8 without him when he had to sit out due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols and some knee ailments, among others. However, when it comes to understanding his value, it’s always been about the intangibles rather than just the stats.
His defensive chops are universally recognized and although he doesn’t have the brashness of a Draymond Green or the physical gifts of a Ben Simmons, the two-time all-defensive team member has never backed down from the challenge of locking up the opponent’s best backcourt player. His notable assignments have included guarding the likes of all-star Damian Lillard, who he limited to 18.5 points and 35 percent shooting in a four-game upset of the higher-seeded Portland Trail Blazers.
Holiday’s effort to understand his opponent’s tendencies and the fact that he has averaged 1.5 steals and committed less than 2.5 fouls over the course of his career both in the regular season and playoffs are just some qualities that regularly keep him in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.
Compared to Eric Bledsoe, who was the point guard he replaced, Holiday also provides the steady offensive presence that not only allows Giannis Antetokounmpo to play more off-the-ball, but also spreads the floor to give the Bucks’ offensive sets a different dynamic. When he struggles offensively, he doesn’t waste possessions and keeps the ball moving in order to find the best shot possible.
Case in point was Game 2. The 2013 All-Star made only five of his 12 shot attempts, but he had nearly half of Milwaukee’s 34 assists in Game 2, with that number also being nearly 10 more than their regular season average of 25.5.
The 30-year-old recently signed a four-year, $134 million extension that should keep him in the city of Milwaukee for the foreseeable future. With Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Holiday under contract until at least 2023, the Bucks will continue be a problem for the rest of the East, especially as they get more games together. In fact, locking up Holiday to an extension wasn’t lost on Antetokounmpo, who was more than elated to have Holiday become a “Buck for life”.
Things have come full circle for Jrue Holiday, who was also the first person born in the 90s to be drafted into the NBA a little over a decade ago. After playing on mediocre teams for much of his career, the California-native has finally found a home in a perennial title contender in the Milwaukee Bucks.
Now, both are looking to go on a deep playoff run that will hopefully end with a title in hand.