Jrue Holiday’s numbers went down across the board this season, a trend that continued in the Philadelphia 76ers’ playoff opener against the Chicago Bulls last weekend.
It’s a trend, however, that may be over. After sputtering through a forgettable performance in Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls, Holiday was the best player on the floor for the Sixers when they fired back Tuesday to even the best-of-seven series at one game each. The Eastern Conference first-round clash resumes Friday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and Holiday sounds determined to pick up where he left off.
“This is the stage you dream to be on,” Holiday said after his team’s 109-92 handling of an emotionally drained Bulls club in Game 2, a team coping with the loss of MVP Derrick Rose and what that means for the rest of its postseason.
For one thing, it means an elusive, scoring-minded point guard such as Holiday has less worries freedom against Bulls backups C.J. Watson and John Lucas III than he did when Rose was around for Game 1. In that one, Holiday scored 16 points and had seven rebounds, but he finished with two assists and three turnovers and never seemed fully in synch.
In Game 2, he scored eight points in the first quarter, ended up with a game-high 26, passed for six assists without a turnover and triggered a Philly fastbreak that pancaked the Bulls (25-8) and essentially proved to be the difference on the scoreboard. Holiday’s play had coach Doug Collins recalling his 19-point playoff debut last year in Miami, when the then-20-year-old scored 19 points with five rebounds, five assists and no turnovers.
“We went into Miami and he played well in that pressure place,” Collins said. “I thought that this year was one that hurt him early because we had no practice.”
Last season, Holiday was one of only eight NBA players who averaged at least 14 points, six assists and four rebounds. This season, his numbers dipped to 13.5, 4.5 and 3.5. He scored 20 points or more 10 times, but also got stuck in double digits 17 times in the Sixers’ final 45 games. His free-throw attempts went the wrong direction, too, from 2.5 per game to 1.8.
The scarcity of practices, the sudden start to the lockout season and a team-wide slump probably were all contributing factors in Holiday’s performance this season. It’s easy to forget, too, that the No. 17 pick in the 2009 Draft still is five weeks away from his 21st birthday. He’s still becoming the player he and especially Collins believe he can be.
“I have told him I want him to attack and not just to act as a point guard,” the Sixers coach said. “I’m happy with seeing him shoot the ball, especially after his bad first game. As a player, I was a shooter. I live by the edge of Pistol Pete Maravich, who was a hero of mine. He said if you are a 50 percent shooter and you miss 10 in a row, it means that sometime you are going to make 10 in a row.”
Holiday made 11 of his 15 shots in Game 2, which might make him and Sixers fans more leery of any regression to the mean.
“I could have shot 15 for 15,” he said in the moments afterward. “But it was fun out there. Everyone got a piece of the pie.”
Philadelphia, which also got sterling work from Evan Turner and sixth man Lou Williams, might be leaning on its backcourt in Game 3 if Andre Iguodala is hampered by the tendinitis in his right Achilles tendon. Iguodala told reporters after the Sixers’ practice Thursday that he expected to play and wasn’t worried about being limited, especially on defense. “I’ll still be able to have an effect on the game,” he said. I’ll be ready to go.”