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Jrue Holiday Shows Exactly Why Celtics Traded Him

Key Highlights

  • Jrue Holiday averaged 18.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists (2.3 turnovers) and 1.2 steals per game during the Eastern Conference Finals
  • He shot 77.2 percent from two-point range, 41.7 percent from deep, and 100 percent from the line (73.4 percent true shooting).
  • His 74 points in the series marked his most in any four games this season

When the Boston Celtics acquired Kristaps Porzingis last summer, it was an acknowledgment that they needed to address a few key areas if they wished to be the juggernaut they have become this season. Although their case was excellent, it was somewhat rigid, lacking any kind of basis for distinguishing things as background or conclusion. And while Al Horford and Robert Williams III were both important contributors, neither felt fit, at the time, to be the starting center (Horford because of his declining age; Williams because of a continuing series of injuries).

Porzingis' arrival ticked both boxes, giving Boston a 20-point scorer who split the floor, posted the mismatch, finished at the rim, and guarded the paint as a defensive anchor. He combined many of the key qualities of Horford and Williams into one player, and he provided the highest points.

But the Latvian's arrival required a shake-up for Marcus Smart, whose pop and verve as a defender was part of the Celtics' charm over the past half-decade. Derrick White has taken over some of the ball-handling duties that Smart left behind and remains a dogged defender. However, that meant someone had to replace White in the starting slot as a soft-spoken, scoring-ready stopper with chops.

While all players are great in their own ways, none of the candidates — Horford, Williams or Malcolm Brogdon — fit that mold. So, three months later, amid the effects of Damian Lillard's move to the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston plucked Jrue Holiday from the rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers, sending Brogdon and Williams in the process.

Although they are very similar — defensive-minded combo guards who are good at controlling the offense a bit — Smart and Holiday are not identical twins. Smart is an elite assistant who is very sharp in help situations defensively, especially inside. Holiday is better face protection off the ball and features more as an individual shooter and creator.

During the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, Holiday's scoring credentials were on full display. If the Celtics hadn't traded for him, they would have been sitting pretty. But they likely wouldn't be in the NBA Finals, and they wouldn't be equipped to handle Porzingis' long-term absence. Holiday's slide into that top five was part of their dominance. He showed exactly why during their blowout against the Pacers.

In four games, the savvy veteran averaged 18.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists (2.3 turnovers), and 1.2 steals. His 74 points are the most in four games this season. He shot 77.2 percent from two-point range, 41.7 percent from deep, and 100 percent from the line (73.4 percent true shooting). He was 12-of-13 at the rim, 5-of-9 on two-pointers from outside the restricted area, 10-of-24 from beyond the arc, and 10-of-10 from the charity stripe — very efficient all-around in the area. down.

To open the series, Indiana benched its All-NBA point guard, Tyrese Haliburton, for Holiday. There really isn't an effective place to hide any poor defender against Boston's versatile offense. The Celtics had no qualms about engaging Holiday more often when he was recruited by an unarmed Haliburton. Before the star starter left Game 2 in the morning with a strained hamstring, which sidelined him in Games 3 and 4, Holiday punished him multiple times.

He is a smart passer, can shoot from outside and is a power-based creator, especially against mismatches. While Smart often posts to open passing windows, Holiday looks to fill his scoring column in these situations. Like his fellow starters, Holiday is also a smart screen, knowing when to force contact and when to slide into space. All these qualities add to the complexity of Haliburton.

Even when Haliburton wasn't his goal, he thrived. He wobbled early in the offense — a trademark of his and Jaylen Brown's games — and moved downhill and went inside for buckets.

This 33-year-old player is among the best guards in this division. He defends himself with his body like a boxer delivering body blows. Once he has carved out the necessary space or tired his defender to the point of wanting to be briefly withdrawn, he uses economical footwork to find his spaces. Boston didn't rely on him to be a consistent creator last round, but he had little trouble moonlighting as a standout scorer.

The dribble handoff keeper above (third clip) is my favorite of the bunch. The White-Holiday DHO enjoyed this postseason and Indiana overplayed, so Holiday made a sound call and swung to the line for a touchdown.

When the offense focused elsewhere — on the likes of Brown, White and Jayson Tatum — Holiday was free to stamp his mark. The tight-knit role he played most of the season, splitting the floor, wandering off the ball and drifting to the dunker zone, offered a different look than Boston's five-out system.

While Milwaukee's offensive line wanted Holiday on the ball regularly (and not always under his control due to injuries), Boston is letting that become a background aspect of his game. He can crush mismatches as a fourth or fifth option, but he's perfectly capable of being a souped-up 3-DD starter when the situation calls for it.

After a slightly offensive opening year, he has settled in nicely. His on-and-off-ball scoring streak against the Pacers is an example of that matchup.

Facing the league's No. 2 offense — a team that created problems for long stretches even without Haliburton — Boston needed Holiday's offense. Porzingis' absence was two-fold. It put the Celtics in jeopardy offensively and left them vulnerable to Indiana's drive-drive brigade.

Holiday's ability to dial up the aggression in different ways helped them maintain their top offense and continue to put two All-Defensive guards together. Boston and Holiday's defense proved quiet, but came through in the second half of Game 3 and 4 to mount a comeback, all while continuing to light up the scoreboard. Those two are not with Williams or Brogdon in his place.

The holiday was over-fitting for his gig most of the time. That's why Boston cruised to 64 wins; it's an incredible luxury to put a player of his caliber in that position. But with Porzingis injured, he changed the hierarchy and got into his All-Star form. His presence went from being comfortable to being lovely and welcoming.

It's the kind of reality Boston gave itself some wiggle room to enjoy when it added the Holidays eight months ago. An elite roster can take a beating and win. Its top talent takes on more specialized jobs than it will see broad, yet well-suited responsibilities. Holiday contains that dynamic at its best and it proved to be crucial as the Celtics rushed to their second Finals appearance in three years.

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