Jrue Holiday flexes defensive prowess

Published June 27, 2021, 3:00 PMMiguel Flores

Jrue Holiday was vital to the Bucks' defensive adjustments in Game 2, which resulted in a dominant victory.

In the first climax of the 2018 film Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan's Erik Killmonger battled Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa for the right to the throne of Wakanda.

The reigning king and Black Panther T'Challa was putting up a fight, but it was clear that the angsty Killmonger was eventually going to win. Right before tossing his cousin over the waterfall, Killmonger loudly exclaims, “Is this your king?” to all the Wakanda nobles, including his aunt, his cousin, and T'Challa's ex-girlfriend.

In my head, this was how Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals played out, particularly the matchup between Atlanta Hawks' star point guard Trae Young and Milwaukee Bucks’ designated star-extinguisher Jrue Holiday. After hearing all the talk before the series about Holiday keeping him in check, Young went up and yelled, “Is this your stopper?” on #NBATwitter after dropping 48 points on the Bucks.

Young's outburst shouldn’t be fully blamed on Holiday since the Bucks lived and died with their drop coverage for three quarters, but that's too much nuance for the screaming masses of fans on social media. On that day, let it be written in the history books that Young cooked Holiday.

Luckily for Holiday and the Bucks, no series ends in Game 1, just like Black Panther having a full third act. Later on in the movie, T'Challa does come back and retake Wakanda after a battle with Killmonger. He does it with a lot of help from his family – they brought him back from the dead and got support from a separatist tribe from up the mountains.

In Game 2 of the series, Holiday got some much needed help from coach Mike Budenholzer. The Bucks went from a dead drop coverage to a less conservative one, having Brook Lopez move a few feet away from the paint to meet Young earlier. 

This resulted in Young needing to maneuver around the Bucks big man instead of getting a free look at a floater each time he came off a screen. And if he wasn’t coming off a screen, Young got his lunch handed to him by Holiday one-on-one. He tried heaving 3s from Steph Curry distance, without Steph Curry's shot. 

The result of the Bucks' adjustments: Young was limited to 15 points on 6-for-16 shooting with two assists and nine turnovers in a game that Milwaukee had sealed at halftime.

Once the most underrated players in the league, Holiday was thrust into the biggest role of his career as the third star in Milwaukee's search for pieces to surround Giannis Antetokounmpo with.

These playoffs have seen the best and worst of Holiday, sometimes within a single game. In the Brooklyn series, Holiday shot a horrid 36.1 percent from the field, but hit some big shots in Game 7 that helped Milwaukee survive.

So far against the Hawks, Holiday has been shooting much better at 59 percent and scoring 27.5 points per game. Still, Holiday’s impact will lie mostly on defense, specifically in challenging Young every possession. Even when he was bricking shots against Brooklyn, Holiday’s defensive efforts never waned. He even got the biggest stop of the series against Kevin Durant’s potential game-winner in overtime of Game 7.

In this role, Holiday seems more like a classic foil instead of a hero. He's the one in charge of showing up Young, one of the league’s newest stars towing a franchise that has experienced sporadic success since the ‘50s. He also has the perfect name for sports movie villainy – after defeating his foes, he sends them on a Holiday.

Holiday, given any one-on-one matchup, will probably get a stop more times than not. In order for him to continue flexing his powers, he's going to need some strategic help from the Bucks.


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