The New Orleans Pelicans’ stunning 2-0 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers has been an ode to their underestimated backcourt. Anthony Davis cooked Jusuf Nurkic away from the bucket and in forays into the paint, but the basketball world has grown accustomed to his 22-point, 13-rebound double-doubles. New addition, Nikola Mirotic chipped in 17, two more than the Pelicans’ reserves.
However, Rajon Rondo appears to have found his secret playoff sauce, serving up 17 assists in Game 1 before finishing one helper shy of his 11th career triple-double in Game 2. And a large bulk of New Orleans’ 111-102 win should be credited Jrue Holiday. In 38 minutes, Holiday had 33 points on 14-of-24 shooting, nine assists and was a wand-waving, TSA security checkpoint on the defensive end.
Two nights after he swatted Pat Connaughton’s soft layup from behind to clinch Game 1, Holiday continued devouring Portland’s Trail Mix backcourt. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the epicenter of Portland’s offense. However, Lillard has been sequestered by Rondo and Holiday.
As the Pels head home up 2-0 on Portland, Jrue Holiday is almost outshooting Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum by himself.
Lillard-McCollum: 29 of 80 shooting combined.
Jrue Holiday: 24 of 44 all by his lonesome.
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) April 18, 2018
Portland’s spurts of putting on one-man shows offensively resulted in ugly shot creation. It was countered by New Orleans’ egalitarian attack. Through two games, the Pelicans have outpaced Portland in assists, 51-37, and they’ve garnered more open looks as a result.
Holiday, an elite finisher in the paint, took an express lane to the rack 19 times, scoring 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting and earned New Orleans another seven points off assists, courtesy of 3-of-4 shooting by teammates, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The ease with which Holiday punctured Portland’s interior defense, scoring 20 of his 33 points in the restricted area, including an emphatic flush over Nurkic in the first stanza, is a vulnerability the Blazers have to address before Game 3.
This isn’t a fluke. It’s how Holiday was able to average career-highs of 19 points and 49.4 percent shooting, despite connecting on a career-low 33 percent behind the arc.
During the regular season, only 10 players drove to the rim as often as Holiday. Holiday registered a 55 percent field-goal percentage in the restricted area on drives among all players with at least 800 attempts, second only to LeBron James. Once Portland was fearful enough of his driving ability, he torched the Blazers with his outside marksmanship.
Clinging to a 102-100 lead with 1:43 left in regulation, Holiday found himself smelling a mismatch on the wing in an iso with Zach Collins. Holiday casually dribbled toward Collins, causing the rookie center to backpedal, giving Holiday enough space to gather, shoot and bury a triple to put the Pelicans up five.
With under a minute remaining, Rondo drilled a dagger 3-pointer from the right corner. It was credited as an assist to Etwan Moore, but Holiday secured the hockey assist.
Even more devastating for Portland’s outlook has been Holiday marching into its home and single-handedly filling up the bucket more often than both McCollum and Lillard.
Lillard’s occasional battle with efficiency has been exacerbated by the superglue defense Holiday is administering. When defended by Holiday, Lillard is 0-for-8 in the series and has turned the ball over twice.
The comeback task will get infinitely tougher for Terry Stotts’ crew as it heads to the Smoothie King Arena, hoping to steal Game 3 and swing this series back to Portland. Lillard was self-critical after the loss, because he’s self-aware enough to know Holiday’s impact.
“I’ve just got to be better.”
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 18, 2018
Lillard has championed his individual standing in the NBA hierarchy quite frequently this season and on the brink of the playoffs, he declared himself an All-NBA first-teamer. However, it’s been his Pelicans counterparts who have been bolstering their own status with their actions on the floor.
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