Jrue Holiday’s defensive genius lifts Bucks over Celtics in crucial Game 5 win: ‘He’s a winner’

BOSTON — Everything Jrue Holiday does on defense, he does with a purpose.

“What’s the point of you trying to steal the ball if you’re just going to hit it out of bounds?” holiday asked the athletic in March.

When Holiday dropped that thought in the middle of a deep 30-minute conversation about his defense, the question was rhetorical.

At the time, Holiday was deep into an explanation of how he tries to play the passing lanes and keep the ball in bounds to turn his aggressive defense into steals instead of setting aside out-of-bounds plays for his opponents. Two months later, he helped explain exactly what was going through his head when he made another mind-boggling defensive play to help the Bucks seal a playoff game, an epic 110-107 Game 5 victory that came from behind. . Boston.

The play was so spectacular and so exciting that it eclipsed Giannis Antetokounmpo with 40 points, 11 rebounds and three steals in 40 minutes (his sixth career 40-point, 10-rebound playoff performance) and gave the Bucks a chance to close out their second-round series against the Celtics in Game 6 on Friday at Milwaukee.

“Just a great instinctive play by Jrue,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “(Marcus) Smart had an angle, he was driving the baseline, and Jrue just, I’m not sure exactly where he came from.”

The play happened so fast it’s hard to even comprehend, but slow down and Holiday’s defensive genius explodes off the floor with every second and every move he makes.

Following a decisive backhand by Bobby Portis (14 points, 15 rebounds) on Antetokounmpo’s missed free throw with 11.4 seconds remaining, the Celtics took a timeout to advance the ball and enter from the sideline for their basket. Celtics point guard Derrick White acted as the trigger with Antetokounmpo on the ball, trying to prevent him from throwing an easy pass. Holiday was close to the right elbow defending Jaylen Brown, while Marcus Smart was about 10 feet away near the bottom right corner of the court, covered by Pat Connaughton.

After the match, Ime Udoka revealed the work was meant to get the ball into Smart’s hands upcourt, so he could pass the ball to Jayson Tatum running from a fixed Al Horford screen on the other side of the court, but that all changed with the Connaughton protected Smart, cutting him off as he tried to get to the top of the court and opening space for him on the baseline.

“Jaylen came down to set up the screen, and Pat was fighting him, but he was on top,” Holiday exclusively explained to the athletic. “Once he was on top, I felt like Marcus felt like he had a path to the basket, the baseline, so I just went for it. I know he didn’t see Jaylen behind him just because of the angle he was at.”

Although the block itself was incredible, everything that happened after Holiday touched the ball is somehow even more impressive.

“I didn’t want to hit him and make him go out of bounds; I wanted to keep it in bounds,” Holiday said. “I think it was kind of… instinctive. It’s not like he planned it or anything.

Holiday blocked the ball with his left hand, but instead of sending it out of bounds as many players might do with their adrenaline pumping on a block at the time from that angle, he blocked the shot and then cupped it with his left hand to make it. it goes down instead of forward. When he returned to the ground after his block, Holiday’s two-foot jump to block the shot turned into a one-foot landing on his left leg as he grabbed the ball two-handed with little room to spare on the baseline.

The grace of the landing, the strength of his core, the power of his feet and the fluidity of it all at the same time are hard to fathom, but none of it is accidental. Holiday trains his body, including the muscles in his feet, to succeed at these exact times.

When told that former teammate Andre Iguodala believes he has the strongest core in the NBA, Holiday explained that while he agrees with Iguodala’s assessment, his strength extends even lower down his body.

“It starts in the feet,” Holiday explained to the athletic in March. “Your feet have to be strong. Usually, when I train or start training, I usually do it barefoot. You have to be able to feel the ground. You have to be able to strengthen your feet, because you have muscles in your feet. From feet to ankles, your ankles have to be strong too. For your ankles to be strong, you need strong calves. We could go on, but it’s a chain, right? goes up

“But I think training just one leg helps. For one thing, it’s balance. But it’s also basic and, like, who likes to do stuff with one leg? But there are so many times in the game of basketball that you’re doing things with one leg and you don’t really notice. You can’t just do two-legged stuff. Jump in the air or how you want to shoot or make a layup or whatever, you have to have strength in that, in one leg, to jump and land.

Holiday showed that exact skill and exactly why he trains the way he does on the play. He landed on his left foot and then managed to bring his right foot in to create a kind of squat, which he came out of by spinning along the baseline while managing to stay in bounds the whole way. .

“I think we’ve been playing this game long enough to feel it,” Holiday said. “It’s like with that corner 3, knowing where it’s out of bounds, knowing where the 3-point line is. So I think, playing this game long enough, I think anybody in that position probably would have done everything they could to try to stay in bounds.”

Then, after a few carefully placed steps along the baseline, Holiday jumped again and tossed the ball past Smart to retain the Bucks’ possession.

“At first, I was trying to see if I could give it to someone on the court,” Holiday said. “And obviously throw it away from our basket, just because that’s rule number 1. But when I didn’t see anybody and I saw Marcus come up, like come up with his hands up, just try to throw it. off his chest and at an angle where he wouldn’t come back and hit me.”

Only four seconds elapsed in the time it took for Smart to catch the inbounds pass and then take a two-handed overhand pass from Holiday, but those four seconds changed everything for the Bucks.

Rather than return to Milwaukee with their season on the line in a must-win game, the Bucks head home with a chance to finish off the Celtics on Friday night and make the most prophetic of the league’s championship race. last season, “Bucks at 6, a reality once again.

Instead of making an encouraging comeback in a loss they could write off as a moral victory, the Bucks returned to the Garden in Boston and found a way to win, despite being down 14 when they came together with just over 10 minutes left. remaining and reminded each other that there was plenty of time left on the clock.

Instead of wondering what might have been if Khris Middleton had been on the court when the Bucks players fell short against Antetokounmpo, the two-time MVP and reigning NBA Finals MVP now has another trademark playoff performance in the road that became a team. win behind big plays from players up and down the list.

“You can’t get too high on this,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously it’s great to win the game and come home and feel good about ourselves, but the work isn’t done.”

Antetokounmpo is right. The Bucks still need to take care of business in Milwaukee. The Celtics took Game 4 from them after the Bucks built a solid lead in the fourth quarter, and this series has come and gone. The Celtics aren’t about to give them a win Friday at Milwaukee, but that doesn’t mean the Bucks can’t appreciate exactly what they did in Boston in Game 5.

Trailing 93-79 with 10:08 left on the clock, the Bucks closed out the game on a 31-14 run with every player on the floor contributing:

  • Connaughton hit two 3-pointers early in the run and sealed the game with two decisive free throws with 5.9 seconds remaining to give the Bucks a three-point lead.
  • Matthews defended the Celtics’ wings like he always does, coming up with a big offensive rebound to set up a 3-pointer for Antetokounmpo and make a 3-pointer of his own.
  • Portis had the biggest offensive rebound of the night by receiving a missed free throw from Antetokounmpo, and his dropback gave the Bucks a one-point lead that Holiday protected with the block.
  • Antetokounmpo scored eight points in the final 10 minutes, including a 3-pointer that halved the Bucks’ six-point deficit with 1:40 to play and fouled out and made the first free throw to give Portis a chance to give to the Bucks. ‘ the lead in recoil.
  • And Holiday hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 105 with less than a minute remaining before making the block that gave Connaughton a chance to give the Bucks a three-point lead with 5.9 seconds remaining.

Marcus Smart reacts after Jrue Holiday seals the Bucks’ win with a steal. (David Butler II/USA Today)

“We’re in Boston, we’re down 14 in the fourth quarter, and people would say everything is against us,” Holiday said. “But we met. I feel like we’ve done it multiple times, and we live and die by it. Supporting each other, just wrapping arms around each other and fighting, honestly, just putting it on the line.”

With no timeouts remaining and a three-point deficit following Connaughton’s decisive free throws, Smart passed the ball to Horford, who fed it back to Smart. The Celtics shooting guard slightly mishandled the ball, only to recover just before meeting Holiday, and then the Bucks point guard finished it off. He took the ball from Smart, dribbled the rest of the clock and flexed as he walked into a hug with his teammates storming the floor from the sideline.

“He is a winner. Jrue Holiday is a winner,” Budenholzer said. “You ask any player in this league, any coach in this league, he’s a winner.”

Ask the Celtics.


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(Jrue Holiday top photo: David Butler II/USA Today)

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