Holiday mode: The true value of Jrue

Published May 13, 2022, 11:00 PMMiguel Flores, Polo Bustamante

NBA.com Philippines writers Polo Bustamante and Miguel Flores examine how vital Jrue Holiday is to the Bucks in the series against the Celtics

Polo Bustamante: Jrue Holiday’s clutch plays in Game 5 of the series between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics perfectly capture him as a player.

With less than a minute left in the game, the Bucks got the stop and needed a three-pointer to tie the game. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the break and whipped it out to Bobby Portis on the right flank. Portis faked a shot then passed to Holiday at the top of the key. Jaylen Brown had his head turned and forgot about Holiday who came out of nowhere on the secondary break. Holiday calmly stepped into his shot and hit the game-tying 3-pointer.

The Bucks regained the lead after clutch plays by Antetokounmpo and Portis on the offensive end. With 11.4 seconds left, the Celtics had the ball and mapped out a sideline out of bounds play. Pat Connaughton overplayed Marcus Smart on the inbound, leaving a wide open baseline for Smart. Connaughton recovered, but Smart still got a shot up. Watching the play unfold close by, Holiday came out of nowhere, perfectly timed his block, and even recovered possession for Milwaukee.

The Celtics had one last chance to tie the score with 5.9 seconds left in the game. They got the ball to Smart who raced down the court, shaded by Portis and Connaughton. Holiday didn’t even wait for Smart to get into a threatening spot on the court. As soon as Smart crossed half court, he came out of nowhere to swipe the ball away. Buzzer, ball game.

That’s the thing about Holiday on this Bucks team. He’s often forgotten. He wasn’t named as an All-Star this year, unlike his teammates Anteokounmpo and Khris Middleton. He finished eighth in the Defensive Player of the Year race, garnering only two second place votes. What he did win was the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award. Given that the award is based on “selfless play and dedication to the team,” it’s an award that Holiday deserves.

He’s the perfect glue guy for the Bucks. He allows Antetokounmpo and Middleton to shine and is content to fill in the holes of the team. Antetokounmpo is the super duper star. He’s the driving force of Milwaukee. Middleton is his sidekick and the designated closer of the team. Holiday isn’t a scene stealer. He’s happy to set them up and focus on shutting down his assignment on defense.

In Game 5 of this series, Holiday filled in a lot of those huge gaps for the Bucks, simply by doing what was needed of him by the team. With Middleton out, he didn’t hesitate to take that ballsy 3 in the clutch. He didn’t wait for Antetokounmpo’s help defense on Smart. He protected the rim and got the huge block on the reigning DPOY. On the final play of the game, Holiday saw an opening and came up with the game-winning stop.

When Middleton went down with an injury, the Bucks faced an uphill climb against the Celtics and their unforgiving defense.That hasn’t been the case so far. It’s Milwaukee that’s currently leading the series, and Boston facing elimination. A large part of their series lead has been the awesome play of Antetokounmpo. He’s been a monster for Milwaukee. But Holiday’s stellar play shouldn’t be forgotten. The Celtics made that mistake in Game 5, and Holiday came out of nowhere to steal the win.

Miguel Flores: There’s a character on Better Call Saul that's your typical cleaner type. He can do anything your typical drug empire needs – from setting up 24-hour surveillance for multiple subjects to cementing your driveway. Unlike other cleaner types, Better Call Saul's doesn't draw much attention. He's a literal grandfather, salt-of-the-earth guy on the outside.

What does show creator Vince Gilligan name this character? Mike Ehrmantraut. The most bland first name with a last name that sounds old, for those who don’t speak German. In truth, Ehrmantraut is a rough translation of “world-class strength”. It’s truly a name only a screenwriter can come up with.

What would you name an NBA character? Let’s say you want to create a character that’s low-key, but highly-effective. He does everything your team needs to win but barely ever gets noticed because his prime years were spent with a team that didn’t always make the playoffs. His offensive game is simple, but on defense, he’s a game-changer and locks up the best player on the team. He doesn't have a highlight reel but the players he guards barely get off top plays against him.

You call this player Jrue Holiday.

It’s genuinely tough to appreciate a guy like Jrue Holiday on a casual level. He won’t get on House of Highlights a lot, nor will he put up massive numbers in the playoffs. Next to a bonafide freak of nature like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday almost seems mundane.

But at times like Game 5, when the Milwaukee Bucks were headed for a loss and a 2-3 series deficit against the Boston Celtics on the road, that’s when guys like Jrue Holiday shine.

In the final minute of Game 5, Holiday made three perfect plays. He hit a triple to tie the game late and give the Bucks some hope. A few possessions later, he recovered on Marcus Smart, blocked his baseline shot attempt, before maintaining possession like a ballerina toeing the baseline. To close the game, Holiday again crept up on Smart and poked the ball away to seal the win.

It’s symbolic that Holiday made these plays against Marcus Smart. Boston’s rugged shooting guard was named Defensive Player of the Year after some spirited campaigning. Why didn’t the voters consider guards for the award? Why did it always go to a center or a big forward? Why didn't the award value perimeter defense when the game has shifted more towards outside shooting and shot-creating guards?

These are all the questions Smart and his disciples kept throwing at the media during voting season. These are the questions that got voters to ponder and – though players say they hate this – go with the narrative of Smart being the most valuable defensive player in the league.

In truth (or jruth), these are the same questions no one bothered to ask for Holiday. For more than 10 years now, Holiday has been one of the best defensive guards in the league, maybe even the best during his prime.

But Holiday is all business. He's the biggest reason—aside from Giannis—the Bucks have survived against a deep Celtics team without their other All-Star in Khris Middleton. He’s the reason the Bucks are heading home one win away from facing the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

He’s the reason the Celtics might be going on holiday.