Jrue Holiday
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

After just three games in the postseason, Jrue Holiday has taken an even bigger leap towards superstardom. His two-way play is unmatched, and he has his Pelicans up 3-0 against the Trail Blazers as the best performer in this series.

Jrue Holiday is an oft-forgotten guard in today’s league of superstar talent on the perimeter. Once an up-and-coming youngster with All-Star potential hailing from the 2009 draft, he has seen his career twist and turn. Now, in his first playoff showing since 2014-15, Holiday is tearing up the postseason, and the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers have no answers for him.

Jrue is now 27 years old, and he has been an All-Star only once. He is now in his athletic prime, and he is using it to its full potential, having a career year and reminding everyone of the talent he has.

Competing guards across the league have leapfrogged Holiday in the past couple years, as he has missed significant time with injuries and various personal issues. Through the previous four years, Holiday played 206 games out of a possible 308. During this long down period, stud guards have come out of the woodwork. Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, and more have placed themselves in the upper echelon of guard status.


Jrue Holiday has something to say about this, though. In 81 healthy games this year, Holiday managed a career-high in points, averaging 19 each game. He had a relative down year in assists, at only 6.0 per game, but context matters with this. The 2017-18 season has featured by far the most he has played at shooting guard in his career. Per cleaningtheglass.com, the Pelicans feature Holiday at shooting guard in five of their six most-used lineups. When Rajon Rondo is the point guard in those five lineups (and when he averages a tied-for-fourth 8.2 assists per game), it is fair to see less assists from Holiday.

Holiday is also seeing a career-high in field goal percentage, at 49.4, which is a full four percent better than his next best season. He is also averaging a career-best effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage.

NBA

The list continues: He is posting his best career steal percentage, at 2.1 percent. He is getting the most Win Shares of any of his 9 seasons, at 7.1. His box plus/minus is the second-best for his career, at 2.1. Even his turnover percentage is the second-lowest he’s ever had, at 13.6 percent. He is improved in virtually every facet of the game, and it is making the playoffs a different story this year for the Pelicans who desperately want to get out of the first round.

The Pelicans are now up on the Blazers 3-0 in the first round of the playoffs. Two of these games were in Portland, and one was in New Orleans. Games 1 and 2 of these games were incredibly intense, while Game 3 ended up being a blowout but the Pelicans have overall outperformed the Blazers, and it hasn’t been quite as close as the final scores might indicate. A huge reason for the road Pelicans winning the first three games of this series is the amazing play of Jrue Holiday.

In Game 1, Holiday finished with 21 points, seven rebounds, and two assists. He shot 10-of-20 with a three-pointer, one steal, and two blocks. Don’t let this line fool you; Holiday played defense as a guard that hasn’t been seen very much in the modern pace-and-space era.

Lillard and CJ McCollum had rough nights. They combined to go 13-of-41 (31.7 percent) from the floor and 8-of-19 from three (which is actually quite good). While Jrue obviously can’t take all the credit for this awful shooting from the guard duo, he was easily the biggest reason why as he split time between the two of them. Holiday has incredible quickness and strength for a 6-foot-4 guard, and nobody was able to penetrate the paint against him. How can you tell when someone successfully shuts down great scorers? McCollum and Lillard took 3 free throws combined in the first game of this series.

In about a 40-second span in the closing moments of Game 1, Holiday stole a fast break from the Blazers, forced Damian Lillard into an awkwardly airballed five-footer, and then blocked Pat Connaughton at the rim. Connaughton has a recorded 38-inch vertical, and Terry Stotts drew up a cut for him, in which he got the ball right under the basket. All he had to do was jump and dunk it home, but Holiday completely disintegrated the shot attempt, sealing the victory for the Pelicans in Portland.

In a season where refereeing controversy is louder than it has been in years, Holiday successfully played perfect defense in all of these situations. He did not foul. He did not shy from the situation. The Blazers couldn’t complain either, because nothing happened other than Holiday perfectly taking away possession after possession.

Although All-Star Anthony Davis was the offensive headline in Game 1, Holiday sealed the game on defense.

In Game 2, it was Holiday’s game on BOTH sides of the ball. His line in this game was phenomenal. He had a game-high 33 points. He had a game-high nine assists. He shot 14-24 from the field, while canning two threes. One of those threes was a pull-up to ice the game over rookie Zach Collins. Jrue got into foul trouble, but when he plays next-level defense like he did once again, this is a consequence that has to be accepted. Lillard, McCollum, and Evan Turner once again had difficult nights.

Holiday spending time on these guys severely hurts their impact on the game. Lillard and Turner were really bad on Tuesday. McCollum was better than Game 1, but the trio still combined to go 16-of-45 from the floor (35.5 percent). Again, not all the credit can be given to Holiday, but it’s obvious that going up against a guard who is so strong at defending excellently without taking too many risks makes scoring so much harder.

Game 3 was the first game of the series that wasn’t competitive the full length of the game. Holiday had an offensive night more along the lines of his Game 1 performance. He ended the night with 16 points, three rebounds, and seven assists. He also was efficient yet again, going 7-of-14 from the floor, while nailing two out of three three-pointers. He swiped three steals, making the night a living hell for Damian Lillard for the third game in a row.

Following game 3, Lillard is now 18-of-53. As one of the regular season’s more dominant scorers, Lillard is completely nullified by the presence of Jrue Holiday.

How is Lillard supposed to score on this level of defense? It was also pointed out on Bleacher Report’s Twitter page that Lillard is 2-18 when directly guarded by Jrue Holiday. To clear things up, Lillard shoots 11.1 percent when defended by Holiday and 45.7 percent when defended by anybody else in this series. Yikes.

The value of two-way play has been reduced at the guard positions since there seems to be a monster perimeter star on most teams. The load they carry is too much to be effective on offense and defense. However, Jrue Holiday is showing that you can make an impact on both sides of the ball rather than post outrageous offensive numbers the way Russell Westbrook, *cough* Damian Lillard *cough*, John Wall, and the Devin Booker-types do.

He is also proving that this play leads to wins, something that some other guards in the postseason can’t claim. It just might even be time to reward Holiday for his two-way dominance by giving him both a spot on both an All-NBA team and an All-Defense team. For now, the 27-year-old Holiday has his Pelicans up 3-0 on the Blazers, and he is the real MVP through the first three games of the playoffs.

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