After two consecutive years of regular-season success and playoff disappointment, the Bucks knew something needed to change. Milwaukee’s front office pushed all of its chips to the center of the table in November, acquiring Jrue Holiday from the Pelicans as part of a four-team trade.
Holiday didn’t come cheap. The Bucks gave up Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, multiple first-round picks and multiple pick swaps in order to add the veteran guard to a franchise with championship aspirations. Holiday excelled during the regular season, averaging 17.7 points, 6.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game while posting new career highs in field goal percentage (50.3) and 3-point percentage (39.2).
But the real questions were always about how Holiday and the Bucks would perform in the playoffs, and a first-round matchup with the Heat had to put a little fear into the hearts of Bucks fans considering it was Miami that kicked Milwaukee out of the NBA’s 2020 “bubble.” Well, Holiday passed his first test with flying colors.
The 30-year-old made an immediate impact in Saturday’s Game 1 win, totaling 20 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three steals in 42 minutes. Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and three steals) and Khris Middleton (27 points, six assists, six rebounds and the game-winning jumper) were unsurprisingly major contributors in the 109-107 overtime victory, but the Bucks simply wouldn’t have been in position to take an early 1-0 series lead over the Heat without Holiday’s contributions.
In a playoff opener that had an elimination-game intensity, Holiday stepped up on both ends of the floor. He shined when it mattered most, scoring 16 of his 20 points in the second half and overtime period.
While Middleton’s clutch shot was understandably the biggest highlight of the game, Holiday’s block on the final possession was no less impressive. With 0.5 seconds left, Holiday stayed attached to Jimmy Butler, who had previously hit a buzzer-beater to tie the game at the end of regulation, and swatted his final attempt away. (It may not have counted had it gone in, but Holiday ensured there would be no replay drama.)
It looks like the shot came after the buzzer in any case, but this was a spectacular block by Jrue Holiday on Jimmy Butler’s final attempt. It capped off a great defensive performance by Holiday. pic.twitter.com/QwsSBDemgP
— Positive Residual (@presidual) May 22, 2021
“This is why I’m here. I want to feel this moment and the pressure and all that,” Holiday said during his postgame media availability. “It’s been fun, first game, but we still got some more work to do.”
That last part is absolutely true. The Bucks have plenty of work to do if they want to silence critics still expecting a postseason flameout.
For one game, though, Holiday demonstrated his immense value, and the Bucks saw exactly what made them so eager to add him in the first place. You can’t put a price on a playoff win.