Can Celtics guard Jrue Holiday exorcise his playoff demons?

Among the holes that Jrue Holiday filled for the Boston Celtics, and there were plenty, perhaps the most important was when he more or less became Marcus Smart’s replacement. While he is not the exact same player as Smart, Jrue may very well be the closest thing to him in the NBA.

At the peak of his powers, Smart is more of a chaotic defender than Holiday, but Holiday’s IQ and versatility more than make up for that. It’s honestly apples and oranges when it comes to debating who’s the better defender between the two. It’s also not hard to see Holiday is a better overall player, particularly offensively. Much like their defense overall, the playmaking between the two makes it hard to decide who’s better. However, Holiday is easily the more efficient shooter of the two.

In his first season in a role similar to Smart, Holiday just posted his highest effective field goal percentage of 58.1%, per Basketball-Reference. The highest Smart ever posted in Boston was 53.3%, and he only eclipsed the 50% mark twice in Boston.

With all of that put out there, there’s one stark contrast between Holiday and Smart that’s hard not to notice, especially around this time of year: Smart is a playoff riser. Holiday, not so much.

Despite Smart’s inefficiency, he has proven in recent years that he could rise to the occasion when the Celtics needed him most. Despite his low effective field goal percentage in the regular season, Smart has proven that his shooting wasn’t nearly as much of an issue in the postseason. In 2023 alone, the uptick in his efficiency went from 51.1% to 56.4%, per Basketball-Reference. His scoring average also went from 11.5 points per game to 14.9.

In fact, going back to 2020, Smart’s scoring average had always gone up in the playoffs for Boston. It went from 12.9 to 14.5 in 2020, then 13.1 to 17.8 in 2021, then 12.1 to 15.4. His effective field goal percentage hasn’t always gone up with it, but when the Celtics have asked more of Smart, he has typically delivered.

Now, compare that to Holiday. One of the initial concerns about Holiday when the Celtics first acquired him was that he was coming off a pretty paltry playoff performance in Milwaukee. In a humiliating gentleman’s sweep at the hands of the Miami Heat, Holiday’s scoring average went from 19.3 points per game to 17.8. His effective field goal percentage also took a hit, going from 55.6% to 47.1%.

Some context is needed. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s injury threw a wrench into the Bucks’ gameplan, which, by proxy, forced Holiday into an alpha role that he was never meant to be in when the Bucks acquired him. In cases like those, it would seem like Holiday’s performance was a mere aberration, but sadly, this has been a trend.

In his playoff career, Holiday has only eclipsed a 50% effective field goal percentage twice — neither of which was with the Bucks, and he hasn’t done it since 2018. In fact, for all the scorn he got, his effective field goal percentage in his last run with the Bucks in 2023 was his highest.

The elite defense has very much been there, as Holiday’s defense won multiple games for his teams in the clutch.

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But the offensive issues have stood out like a sore thumb. So, could things be different this time in Boston? In all fairness, since he is more or less Smart’s replacement, it’s fair to say that the Celtics aren’t asking Holiday to be the player he was for the Bucks. With all the starters on the floor, he is their fifth option. With less pressure, he should be more efficient, no?

The initial returns were not great in Game 1 against the Heat. Holiday made two threes but missed everything else.

However, on the defensive end, Holiday was exactly as advertised. His main assignment was Tyler Herro, whom he guarded for 33 possessions. Herro only scored three points and had two turnovers while guarded by Holiday, per NBA.com. Not having Jimmy Butler definitely changes Miami’s scheme, but knowing Herro’s reputation, Holiday did exactly what the Celtics hoped he would on that end.

Plus, despite having a stinker in his playoff debut, the Celtics were still plus-12 with Jrue on the floor, per NBA.com. So, all in all, whether he can exorcise his playoff demons on the offensive end, Holiday still brings so much to the table that the Celtics can survive if he doesn’t put too many points on the board.

If he can bring pretty much everything else that Smart brought, Boston won’t have much to worry about from Holiday.

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