Jrue Holiday’s ties to Los Angeles are as deep as they come. He was born in Chatsworth, and led Campbell High School to the 2008 California Division IV state championship. He then attended UCLA, helping the Bruins reach the second round of the 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
With such a strong Southern California connection, it comes as some surprise that his best body of basketball work is taking place in New Orleans. This is very much the case, however, as Holiday has helped make a name for himself in this year’s NBA playoffs. The sixth-seeded Pelicans weren’t given much of a chance to take down the third-seeded Portland Trailblazers in round one. Despite the naysaying, New Orleans came out of the first round as the only team to win every game against their opponent.
Holiday’s impact on this series can’t be ignored, specifically in games two and four. In the first of these two games, Holiday led all players in scoring and assists, with 33 points and nine assists. For all of the strong offensive numbers Holiday put up, it was his defensive effort, especially against Portland’s All-Star guard Damian Lillard, that allowed New Orleans to walk away with a 111-102 victory. Lillard scored just 17 points on 7-18 shooting, while turning the ball over seven times.
In game four, the final bout of this series, the joint offensive explosion from Holiday and Anthony Davis was too much for the Trailblazers to overcome. The duo combined for 88 points, 41 of which came from Holiday. Again, Lillard was rendered harmless, as he was only able to score 19 points on 7-16 shooting. If it wasn’t for CJ McCollum’s 38 points for Portland, the 131-123 Pelicans win would have been much more lopsided.
As his stats for the series will show, Holiday had an impact that went far beyond high scoring and assist totals. This is not to say that his points and passes were trivial, as the Pelicans probably don’t sweep Portland if Holiday doesn’t score 28 points per game and dish out 6.5 assists. However, these numbers don’t encapsulate everything Holiday did in his time on the court.
It should first be mentioned that Holiday had the second highest usage percentage of the team, at 30.2 percent. According to realgm.com, usage percentage is “a measurement of the percentage of plays utilized by a player while he is in the game.” This means that Holiday was directly involved in 30 percent of all plays that occurred while he was playing.
With that in mind, it makes the fact that Holiday was able to maintain a true shooting percentage of 63 percent even more impressive. Factor in the fact that he also accounted for 29 percent of all assists that occurred while he was on the court, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that Holiday was asked to do it all on offense. He more than answered the call, shown by his offensive rating of 118 points per 100 possessions.
It would be easy to excuse a poor defensive effort with so much offensive responsibility. Holiday need not make such excuses, as he was one of the team’s better defenders, as well. His defensive rating of 110.6 points per 100 possessions does leave a little to be desired, but his ability to lockdown Lillard all series should more than make up for any slight defensive indiscretions.
Lillard, who led Portland in scoring all season, with 26.9 points per game, averaged just 18.5 points in their first round series. Even reaching this total turned out to be a chore for Lillard, as he registered a true shooting percentage of 47 percent while having the second highest usage percentage of the team at 24.9 percent. He also was far and away the Trailblazers’ leader in turnovers, totaling 16 throughout the team’s four games.
Giving Holiday all of the credit in stopping Lillard wouldn’t do justice to the defensive performance of the other Pelicans players. Rajon Rondo, the other starting guard, had the fifth highest defensive rating of the team at 108.2 points per 100 possessions.
Davis and Nikola Mirotic can be thanked for closing off the paint, as the pair had defensive ratings of 100.9 and 100.7 points per 100 possessions, respectively. Both were also the team leaders in block percentage, with Mirotic accounting for 5.5 percent of all blocks that occurred with him in play, and Davis blocking 5.8 percent of all shots with him on the court.
New Orleans’ sweep of Portland was a team effort through and through, but Holiday will receive the most recognition from it, as no one expected him to dominate every facet of the game as he did. Before the season began, he was much maligned after receiving a five year, $131 million contract. Most fans didn’t believe Holiday was worth that much of the team’s money, and that any other guard could produce the same results for a cheaper price tag.
Holidays’ first round performance should serve as some vindication for the bonus he received, but the NBA is very much a “what have you done for me lately,” kind of league. If Holiday struggles throughout the rest of the Pelicans’ playoff appearance, his incredible play against Portland may be forgotten.
The road to being crowned NBA champions is a long one. New Orleans will need to take down the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and whoever survives the free-for-all that is the Eastern Conference playoffs, in order to take home the trophy.
Realistically, this isn’t the Pelicans’ year, but with Holiday, Davis, and Rondo in the fold, as well as Demarcus Cousins returning next season from an ACL tear, the team is set up for future championship runs. Holiday will be an integral part of this team’s success if he continues to play the way he did against the Trailblazers.