National Basketball Association
Celtics found their x-factor in Jrue Holiday: 'I want to win, whatever it takes'
National Basketball Association

Celtics found their x-factor in Jrue Holiday: 'I want to win, whatever it takes'

Updated Jun. 14, 2024 9:49 p.m. ET

Without Jrue Holiday, the Boston Celtics wouldn't be in this position.

They're up 3-0 over the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, one win away from their 18th NBA championship. And even though Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the team's superstars, Holiday has undeniably been the swing factor.

In Game 1, he had the highest plus-minus rating (plus-20) of anyone on the court, holding Kyrie Irving to just 12 points with his swarming defense. In Game 2, he starred with a team-high 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting and 11 rebounds. And in Game 3, his leadership was on full display, with Tatum saying his words snapped the Celtics out of their early lethargy. 


Holiday is widely being praised as the difference-maker for the Celtics this series.

ESPN's Mike Greenberg said Holiday would be his Finals MVP if the series ended after Game 2. And Philadelphia 76ers superstar Joel Embiid seemingly lamented over social media that the Celtics acquired Holiday in October. (The Milwaukee Bucks traded Holiday to Portland in a three-team deal to acquire Damian Lillard in September. Four days later, the Celtics swooped in to pick up Holiday from the Trail Blazers.)

"Did the bucks give them the championship?" Embiid recently posted on X. 

Holiday hears all the praise. But to him, none of it matters. 

"I'm just about winning, and I want to win, whatever it takes," Holiday told FOX Sports. "It doesn't matter if I score. Honestly, it doesn't matter if I'm on the court. If I'm handing people water bottles and towels, and if that's helping us build our confidence and good chemistry and getting us wins, then I'll do it."

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Holiday's two-way skills and unselfishness have made him a highly celebrated teammate throughout his career. He's willing to do anything, including guarding the opposing player's superstar, scoring and being a playmaker.

Holiday said those are skills he developed when he was young and had to scrap for playing time. And after being selected by Philadelphia as the 17th overall pick in the 2009 draft out of UCLA, he continued to try and find ways to make himself invaluable, even if they weren't reflected in box scores.

"I wasn't always the best player, so there were other things I had to do to find a way — if it was defensively to get on the court, or rebounding or making plays for other people," Holiday told FOX Sports. "I think that definitely added to my game."

Now, Holiday has turned into the missing piece for a Celtics team that fell short of winning a championship in the 2022 Finals, and then failed to advance past the Eastern Conference finals last season. Throughout the playoffs, Holiday has averaged 13.2 points on a stunningly efficient 50.9% shooting from the field and 40% from beyond the arc, while also shooting 95.5% from the free-throw line. 

"I don't know how they let us get him, but I'm so happy we got Jrue on our team and we're so fortunate," Tatum said after Game 3 in an interview with NBA TV.

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With Holiday shining on the biggest of stages, the Celtics' acquisition of him is now being viewed as one of the most important deals of the season. And he's going to be a mainstay with the team after agreeing to a four-year, $135 million extension in April.

Some pundits and fans are even saying that Holiday, a two-time All-Star, is better and more valuable than Lillard, an eight-time All-Star, after the Bucks got eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. 

Holiday isn't interested in that chatter. 

"I know a lot of the time, they try to compare people and do all that," Holiday told FOX Sports. "But Dame is a great player. It's one year that he was with Milwaukee, and they had injuries in the playoffs. And you never know what could've happened. But for me, I'm focusing on being here."

Holiday has acknowledged he was stunned when the Bucks decided to trade him, especially after he helped lead the team to the championship in 2021. But it also didn't take long for him to see the opportunity in front of him. He quickly realized that the Celtics gave him his best shot of winning another title. 

And they realized he took them to another level.

His teammates praise him for being able to guard positions one through five, ranging from someone with the height and power of Giannis Antetokounmpo to someone with the speed and agility of Irving. He's capable of scoring 20-plus points on any given night, though he couldn't care less if he goes scoreless. And he's also someone who's deeply respected for his knowledge of the game and lack of ego.

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Brown was quick to point out that Holiday's role changed when he came to the Celtics and didn't have the ball in his hands as much. He went from averaging 19.3 points a game last season to 12.5 points with the Celtics.

But instead of pouting that he had a lesser role and his stats wouldn't be gaudy enough to make an All-Star team, he poured his energy into plugging the Celtics' holes. He focused on defense and 3-point shooting, finishing the season with a career-high 42.9% from deep.

"He's got that demeanor, that killer-like mentality, and we respect it," Brown said. "You know what I mean? He's a great teammate and it's just an honor to play next to him."

Holiday is also looked at as a locker room leader. And he was quick to squash any potential controversy that arose during the Finals.

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd recently caused a stir when he called Brown the Celtics' best player, which was interpreted as a shot against Tatum. Holiday then seemingly backed Kidd in an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio, saying, "I don't think he's lying."

But after Holiday saw how that comment was interpreted, he issued a statement after Game 2. He had just scored the most points through the first two games of the NBA Finals without committing a turnover since Michael Jordan. But before talking about his performance, he cleared the air about his superstar teammates, saying, "I do not prefer one or the other."

When asked why he felt the need to do that, he didn't hesitate.

"I said that trying to pump up my teammate, and not degrading or talking down about another one," Holiday told FOX Sports. "I think JB has been playing great. I think he's been playing awesome, leading our team and doing what he does. I also think JT has been playing great, even though people might think the scoring and stuff isn't there. He's been playmaking. Last game I had 20-something points and six or seven of those passes came from JT sacrificing, making plays to get me the ball.

Holiday said he first spoke to his teammates privately.

"I'm close to them, so we can clear it up like that," Holiday told FOX Sports. "And that's what happened."

But he wanted to set the record straight publicly, too.

"I heard the outside noise about JB and JT and who I'd rather have," Holiday told FOX Sports. "But we've seen for years now that they can win together. It doesn't really matter who the best player on the team is. They're both our superstars and the leaders on our team. So, to do it together is the only way."

It's clear that Holiday's voice is deeply respected in the locker room. In fact, after the Mavericks jumped to a 13-point lead in the first quarter of Game 3 behind a flurry of shots from Irving and Luka Doncic, it was Holiday who pulled his guys aside, issuing a much-needed wakeup call.

"It's just in that moment that Jrue kind of brought us together and just clapped his hands like, 'Yo, we got to wake up, we got to lock in,'" Tatum said. "We got to get some stops. Because at that point, they had like 25 points. In the last five, six minutes, we held them to like five or six points."

So, whether with his play or his words, Holiday has been a major reason the Celtics are in this position. 

They've flown through the postseason with a record of 15-2 and are on the precipice of accomplishing something that's eluded them since 2008.

And in many ways, they have a newcomer to thank for helping them arrive at this moment. 

It just so happened that Game 3 fell on Holiday's birthday. But, unsurprisingly, his focus was on another celebration he'd hopefully be having soon. 

"It feels good to be up 3-0 in the NBA Finals," Holiday said with a smile. "Today is a great day."

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.


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