- Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty
- The Pelicans were left with few options but to extend Jrue Holiday a five-year, $126 million contract this past summer when he hit free agency.
- The signing has paid off for the Pelicans, as Holiday has exploded in the playoffs, helping the Pelicans go up 2-0 on the Portland Trail Blazers.
- Holiday’s play on both sides of the ball has topped Damian Lillard and given the Pelicans an extra gear as they look to advance in the playoffs.
The New Orleans Pelicans shocked the Portland Trail Blazers for a second straight game, winning 111-102 on Tuesday to send the series back to New Orleans with the momentum comfortably in their hands.
While the Pelicans surged into the playoffs behind some awe-inspiring play by Anthony Davis, through two playoff games, it’s been Jrue Holiday who has sparked the Pelicans into stealing home-court advantage.
For the Pelicans, the massive sum they paid Holiday this past summer is proving worthwhile. The Pelicans signed Holiday to a five-year, $126 million contract last July, mostly because they had to. With little money to find an equal replacement in free agency, the Pelicans desperately needed to retain Holiday’s playmaking and shooting to surround Davis and the currently injured DeMarcus Cousins.
While Holiday put together a rock-solid season for the Pelicans, averaging 19 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists per game in 81 games, his most in seven years, he’s cranked it up a notch in the playoffs.
Through two postseason games, Holiday has badly outplayed Damian Lillard, a rightful MVP candidate. Holiday is averaging 27 points per game on 54% shooting, with 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game, and the Pelicans are a plus-24 with him on the floor, a significant margin for two close games.
In Game 2, Holiday posted 33 points and 9 assists, looking virtually unstoppable on dribble penetration. While Holiday isn’t known as an explosive guard, his steady pace and shifty dribbling allowed him to get to the basket almost at will.
His dribble penetration then opened up lanes for Davis in the pick-and-roll.
Equally as important has been Holiday’s defense, particularly on Lillard and C.J. McCollum. According to ESPN, Lillard is 0-for-8 with two turnovers in the series when being guarded by Holiday. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Holiday is a big guard who can nicely execute New Orleans’ aggressive pick-and-roll coverage on Lillard, though it’s worth noting that the Pelicans have also used a rotating cast of guards to defend Lillard.
Holiday also came up with two clutch defensive plays in Game 1, making a steal in the final minute of the fourth quarter, and then blocking a layup in the final seconds that would have cut the Pelicans’ edge to just one.
The Blazers have showered Holiday with praise for his play on both ends.
“Coming off that pick-and-roll, he’s able to get those floaters and get to the rim,” Lillard said. “He’s impacting the game on both ends of the floor … In my opinion, I think he’s one of the best defenders out there on the perimeter. He’s just playing well. He’s big and crafty.”
“He’s a very good player,” McCollum said. “I said it coming into this series: He doesn’t get a lot of credit because he’s playing with [Davis], and I think you’re starting to see how good he truly is on both ends of the floor.”
The Pelicans now have a golden opportunity to wrap the series up at home and earn some rest before the second round starts.
By the looks of things, they would meet the Golden State Warriors in the second round, and while the Warriors outmatch nearly anyone, Holiday’s play adds an interesting dimension for the Pelicans. A scorer to complement Davis and a multi-position perimeter defender could go a long way in at least giving the Warriors a battle in the second round.
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