Jrue Holiday makes his point as Pelicans end losing streak
NEW ORLEANS – Jrue Holiday made his point.
He doesn’t want to play point guard for the Pelicans.
At least not all the time, and preferably not at the start of games.
He made the point publicly after practice Tuesday.
Holiday is a really good shooting guard, a first-team All-NBA defender and an emergency point guard.
Right now the Pelicans are facing what could be considered an emergency situation at point guard.
Starter Elfrid Payton has played in just six games because of multiple injuries, the latest of which – a fractured finger that required surgery – kept him out of six games going into the home game against Washington on Wednesday and Payton is expected to miss another month or so.
New Orleans does not have a consistently dependable point guard on its bench, so when the starter misses any significant amount of time, coach Alvin Gentry understandably turns to Holiday.
But the Pelicans practiced Tuesday in the wake of a fourth consecutive loss, a 124-107 loss to Boston. Holiday committed five of New Orleans’ eight first-quarter turnovers that helped the Celtics build an early 15-point lead and cruise.
Holiday and Davis were so frustrated after the loss that they skipped out on post-game interviews. When they talked Tuesday they did it together.
They had a tag-team message they executed as flawlessly as the countless alley-oop dunks they have produced over the years.
When Davis was asked what he and his teammates could do to help out Holiday with his additional duties at point guard, Holiday interrupted.
“Take me off the ball,” he said. “Put AD at point guard.”
He was half-kidding.
He was kidding with the putting Davis at point guard part. He wasn’t kidding about the “take me off the ball part.”
It was clear that such a move was already in the making.
“(Holiday) is better off the ball,” Davis said as Holiday smiled and nodded affirmatively. “We’re going to make some adjustments to that.”
Gentry formally announced the adjustment before Wednesday’s game: Tim Frazier would be starting at point guard to “try to alleviate some of the pressure on Jrue.”
“We ask him to do way, way, way too much – guard the best player, get 10 assists, get 20 points, run the offense down the stretch and make sure that he’s running on every play,” Gentry said. “So hopefully that’ll take some of the pressure off of him a little bit. He’ll be able to get back to the position where he’s best and that’s to be a runner and play off the ball. And be the second facilitator.”
The difference in Holiday was immediately noticeable. The game was 50 seconds old when he drove to the basket and made a layup for the game’s first points.
He drove in for another layup some 24 seconds later. Two minutes later he made a 3-pointer. Two more layups in less than a minute. Then another 3-pointer. By the end of the first quarter he had 14 points, having made 6 of 8 shots, including 2 of 4 3-pointers.
Just as his miscues had helped Boston seize control early on Monday night, his efficiency two nights later helped New Orleans seize control.
“I got a lot of easy ones straight out of the gate,” Holiday said. “I was able to get to the basket and I had a couple of wide-open threes too. When Tim pushes it and gets into the paint he attracts three and four guys, and guys are wide open on the outside and he makes the play.”
The Pelicans led by seven after one quarter, 20 at halftime and coasted to a 125-104 victory.
“I thought we were back to being who we were,” Gentry said.
Holiday finished with a game-high 29 points. He had five assists and three turnovers. Frazier had a double-double – 12 points and 12 assists – plus three turnovers in 36-plus minutes. Not bad for a guy who played 4½ minutes against Boston in his first action after five consecutive healthy DNPs.
Frazier isn’t the solution to the Pelicans’ point guard problem.
But he can be part of an approach that enables them to mitigate Payton’s absence until he returns.
When Frazier is on the floor Holiday can return to his comfort zone and still run the offense secondarily.
“He’s the facilitator not on the initial plays,” Gentry said of Holiday, “but he can be the guy that’s making the plays at the end of the possession.”
He did that against the Wizards.
Gentry also has the luxury of having big men in Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle who also can be secondary facilitators.
“Our big guys are good at initiating the offense,” Gentry said. “Anybody can really initiate that and we’ll continue to do that.”
So Frazier doesn’t have to be who Payton is.
He just has to be good enough to allow Holiday to remain who he is.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…