If only for one night, Jrue Holiday silenced his critics. He delivered a signature performance in a tight contest Tuesday, dropping 33 points in a 108–103 Pelicans win. New Orleans now owns a 2–0 lead over the Blazers as their first-round series shifts to the Bayou for Game 3 on Thursday.
The Pelicans were roundly criticized for re-signing Holiday to a five-year, $125 million deal last summer. The beauty of the playoffs is that the long term doesn’t matter. Anyone can be a hero any given night. And in Game 2, the hero was Holiday.
The idea of the Boogie Cousins trade was to bring in a sidekick for Anthony Davis. Tuesday, Holiday proved to be the perfect Robin to Davis’s Batman. Jrue dished nine assists to complement his big scoring night. His step-back three with just over a minute to go was an incredibly gutsy shot, and provided New Orleans an insurmountable 105–100 lead. Davis was spectacular on both ends in his own right, but Holiday’s performance in both games is what has this series tilted in the Pelicans’ favor.
Through two games, Holiday is thoroughly outplaying Portland’s high-octane backcourt. In Game 2, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 39 points on 16-of-39 shooting. In comparison, Holiday hit 14 field goals by himself, including clutch buckets down the stretch. While Dame and C.J. have shot under 50% in both games this series, Holiday has played efficiently, connecting on 54.5% of his shots while also competing admirably on defense.
Holiday and Davis have been a good pair all year long. The Pelicans had a 7.0 net rating when the two shared the court during the regular season. That dipped slightly after Boogie’s injury to 6.8, but New Orleans compensated for the loss of Cousins by playing at a faster pace and letting players like Holiday and Davis use more possessions. New Orleans’s mini-transformation is not dissimilar to the 76ers’ success without Joel Embiid. New Orleans lost a talented big man, but spreading the floor—playing Davis at center and running more—is arguably a better strategy for everyone involved. The pace hasn’t been crazy high against Portland, but with the Blazers’ tough defense, it’s easy to see a world in which the Pelicans would have been playing grind-it-out games with Boogie on the court. The addition of Nikola Mirotic also gave the Pels a much-needed dose of shooting from the outside.
Instead, Davis has space to roam and is incredibly lethal as the roll man when surrounded by perimeter players. And Holiday is taking advantage of having the ball in his hands more often. As a result, the Pelicans have looked like one of the scarier teams in the postseason. Davis is playing like a top-five player, and the supporting cast—albeit through only two games—are playing their roles perfectly.
Much can change from game to game, or even half to half, in a playoff series. Each possession becomes magnified, and players go from heroes to public enemies within seconds. One night in the first round won’t determine if Holiday’s contract was worth it. On the other hand, contracts don’t matter on one night in the first round. Everything goes out the window aside from what is decided on the court. For now, Holiday is a hero, and his stellar play has New Orleans looking primed for a first-round upset.