The Bucks paid a steep price to get Jrue Holiday out of New Orleans — Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, R.J. Hampton, and two future first-round selections — but they did it with three goals in mind.
First (and most importantly), prove to Giannis Antetokounmpo the franchise was willing to do whatever it took to win a title, so he would re-sign with them. Check that box off.
Second, re-sign Holiday to a longer contract and keep him in Milwaukee. Check that box off.
And now the Bucks are just one win away from checking off the third box — winning an NBA title.
And they wouldn’t be there without Holiday — his defense on Chris Paul and Devin Booker has changed the tide of the 2021 NBA Finals.
“His ability to impact the ball, just make everybody uncomfortable,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Holiday’s defense on the Suns. “You never know when he might get a steal, get a deflection. I think it all just adds up… Jrue’s impact defensively is a big part of the reason why he’s such a good fit with us.”
You could see that at the end of Game 5 Saturday night. Phoenix was down one with less than 30 seconds left, Booker was matched up on P.J. Tucker and trying to drive past him, Antetokounmpo doubled Booker and took away the drive, so Booker stopped and tried to spin back toward the middle for a shot, only to find Holiday had left his man, dug down on Booker who spun right into him, then Holiday ripped the ball away for the steal.
Then rather than dribble out the clock, he threw an alley-oop to Antetokounmpo that sealed the win.
GIANNIS THROWS DOWN THE OOP FROM JRUE 🤯 pic.twitter.com/h1Qa0u06Rv
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 18, 2021
“Honestly, it was great team defense,” Holiday said, playing down his part. “I feel like we knew Booker wanted to take that last shot and played great defense on him and made him turn his back and he turned right into me. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Did Budenholzer want Holiday to just dribble it out, take some time off the clock, and get fouled?
“Well, that’s what I was going to do,” Holiday said. “Chris [Paul] I think kind of played in between, but Giannis took off and he was calling for the ball. So at that point, I just threw it as high as I could and only where Giannis could go get it, and he went up there got it.”
That lob was Holiday’s 13th assist of the night, to go with 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting. There was a stretch in the third quarter when it was Holiday carrying the Bucks offense.
Jrue Holiday created, assisted, or scored 67 points in Game 5 of the 2021 #NBAFinals. pic.twitter.com/kpYWDokLYO
— Synergy Basketball (@SynergySST) July 18, 2021
“When he’s aggressive, he’s one of the tougher point guards to handle — his size, his athleticism, his skill set,” Khris Middleton said. “He can do so many things on the court when he’s aggressive and getting to the paint, hitting shots like we saw tonight and finding guys.”
Holiday has proven over and over again these playoffs he was the player the Bucks needed to get over the hump — he was worth the steep price they paid.
Now one more big game from him — and Middleton, and Antetokounmpo — and the Bucks will win their first title since gas cost 36 cents a gallon, and “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night was a hit.