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NBA

Jrue Holiday Is Indispensable

Jrue Holiday #21 of the Milwaukee Bucks dribbles the ball against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first quarter at Crypto.com Arena on February 06, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Did you know that Jrue Holiday is currently having the most efficient offensive season of this career? I sure didn’t before the Bucks’ Wednesday night match-up against Miami, but I do now. Though Giannis Antetokounmpo gets all of the love, and rightfully so, and Khris Middleton is seen as the near-star sidekick, Holiday has always been the Milwaukee player that kills from the shadows.

As a reliable third option, Holiday can hunt better match-ups than his two more heralded players, and the Bucks are not scared to design game-winning plays for him. Whether by design or not, that’s exactly what happened in Milwaukee on Wednesday, and Holiday capped off a furious Bucks comeback to snatch away what looked like a sure victory for Miami. The Heat were up by 14 points with just six minutes left to play, and then, all of a sudden, Holiday was laying in the game-winning bucket.

After Miami flubbed an inbound while up one with 13.5 seconds left, Antetokounmpo out-leaped Jimmy Butler on a jump ball that fell to Bobby Portis. Portis immediately handed it off to Holiday, and the rest of the Bucks, perhaps seeing that their point guard had Gabe Vincent on him, cleared out. That allowed Holiday to stroll to the three-point, turn on the jets, roll over Vincent, and float the ball just over the outstretched hand of Bam Adebayo.

One missed Tyler Herro desperation three later, and Milwaukee had toppled the current No. 1 seed in the East.

Though there needed to be a whole surge from the Bucks to even get to that point—Miami was up 113-99 with six minutes left, and 119-115 with under 30 seconds to go, both leads that should have felt safe if not for the fact that they were playing the defending champions in Milwaukee—Holiday’s winning layup is a perfect example of the value that he can bring. He’s not always needed for the late-game shots; Antetokounmpo is always a threat to barrel into the lane himself, and Middleton beat Miami on a buzzer-beater just 10 months ago in the playoffs.

Holiday seems both content and deadly proficient at his third banana role, and that’s all he needs to be. For the season, the 31-year-old guard who was acquired in late 2020 is averaging 18.3 points per game, to go with nearly seven assists, five rebounds, and his usually sterling on-ball defense. He’s also shooting a career best 50.8 percent from the field and a similarly high mark (41.4 percent) from three-point land. On Wednesday, he was roughly around those marks, scoring 25 on 8-of-17 shooting (3-of-8 from three), and adding in 11 assists. During the Bucks comeback from 14 down with half a quarter to go, he scored seven points and assisted an Antetokounmpo dunk. He was everywhere on defense, helping keep Miami to six points in that time period. He was essential.

There are two ways to look at Wednesday’s game. The one that is less charitable towards the Bucks is that Miami shot 47.7 percent from three, broke a franchise record for threes made in a game, and had those two big leads in crucial moments before blowing it. The reality is closer to this, though: Milwaukee is still one of the very best teams in the NBA, loaded across the court, and with three players capable of taking over games and winning them outright. Though Antetokounmpo was the main engine in the comeback, and his tip victory over Butler allowed for the last-second dramatics, it was Holiday who found himself with the ball and the game on the line.

The Bucks had timeouts if they wanted to design a play for either Antetokounmpo or Middleton, who had just hit a walk-up three to cut the margin to one, but decided to trust in their point guard’s ability to attack Vincent and get into the paint. On Wednesday, even with both Antetokounmpo and Middleton having excellent games, it was Holiday who took down Miami with a hard charge and a soft touch. The Bucks needed him, and he delivered, just as he always does.