As Jrue Holiday goes, so do the Milwaukee Bucks in NBA Finals

Jul 3, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 3, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

After Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals, no Milwaukee Bucks player fell under more scrutiny than point guard Jrue Holiday.

Although playing defense at his usually elite level, criticism of his lack of offensive production became a talking point amongst fans and media alike. Holiday’s heroics in Game 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals were a distant memory as he struggled on the court with the return of Giannis Antetokounmpo for the NBA Finals. Although Khris Middleton also received criticism, Middleton had played well in Game 1 and Bucks fans are unfortunately used to his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde game-by-game performances.

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The real key to the Bucks beating the Suns and getting back into the series as a whole was, is and will be Holiday. Holiday is the missing link that was brought in this offseason to get the Bucks to the NBA Finals, which the team did behind Middleton and Holiday in Giannis’ absence in the Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks.

Well, Holiday played better in Game 3, and because of that and another heroic effort by Giannis, the Bucks pulled within a game of the Suns in the series following their 120-100 victory in Game 3.  As shown in Game 2, Giannis cannot do it alone. If he gets support, specifically from Holiday, then Game 3 is the result with the series now at 2-1 going into Game 4 Wednesday night.

Jrue Holiday is the biggest Milwaukee Bucks player that can swing the NBA Finals

It has been said about the NBA — it is a make or miss league. Some say there is no such thing as a bad shot if it goes in. But, if the shot does not go in, a player’s shot selection is questioned, the coach is questioned, the offensive strategy questioned. Holiday seems to be the living embodiment of this age old NBA proverb.

A few instances from Game 3 stick out when reviewing Holiday’s shot selection where the veteran guard helped propel the Bucks by scoring 12 of his 21 points, which came courtesy of going 4-for-5 from deep during the period. Holiday’s improved shooting performance all started nearly a minute after the opening tip where he buried the night’s first points from beyond the arc from the corner, thanks to an easy pass from Antetokounmpo in semi-transition.

It can be both a blessing and a curse to see shots these kind of shots go down for Holiday as it may lead to a greater willingness for him to shoot rather than driving in the paint and getting to the restricted area. In the case of Game 3, Holiday attempted the most triples of any Bucks player and he matched his highest mark for 3-point marks during this playoff run by going 5-for-10 from three on the night.

Still, Holiday’s shot selection still needs to be refined not just where he’s taking shots on the floor, but when it’s occurring in the shot clock. Per, Holiday has taken the most shots of any player in these Finals from 22-18 seconds in the shot clock and is 4-for-13 from the field (2-for-6 from long distance), good for a 38.8 effective field goal percentage.

Putting the concerns regarding Holiday’s shot selection aside, he was instrumental in building the Bucks’ decisive runs in the second and third quarters.

In the 16-3 run to end the first half where the Bucks built their first double-digit lead, Holiday did not launch up one 3-point attempt. He made a mid-range jumper, but he worked primarily as a facilitator for his teammates by gaining three assists, including the sensational behind the back pass to Bobby Portis for the fast break dunk that erupted the Fiserv Forum crowd. This stretch is the prime version of Holiday–he is not shooting pull up 3-pointers — and he is playing to the strengths of his teammates.

Doing that while riding the hot hand he had over the course of the third quarter, especially with the Suns breathing down their neck, cemented Holiday’s bounce-back game and the performance the Bucks needed around Antetokounmpo’s marvels.

Despite this, there is much for Holiday and the Bucks to iron out and fast. His shot selection is still a worrisome part of his overall and is still the biggest bellwether to the Bucks’ offensive abilities. We saw in Game 3 that when the ball finds the bottom of the net for Holiday, the Bucks are on another and unbeatable level.

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So, it seems for the Bucks, in this series, that their overall outcome – champion or runner-up in these 2021 NBA Finals – will be dictated by Holiday’s makes or misses and the overall aggression he shows offensively.