Former Sixers Star Unlocked the Bucks’ Door to NBA Title

Jrue Holiday’s NBA journey officially began on June 25, 2009 when the Philadelphia 76ers took him with the 17th overall selection. Twelve years later, the former Sixers floor general has finally reached the pinnacle of professional basketball.

Holiday and the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns, 105-98, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday. In doing so, the team captured the 2021 NBA championship; its first title since 1971.

The Bucks were led in the game, as per usual, by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who became just the seventh player to score 50 points in a Finals game. However, Holiday — as he had done throughout the series — played a key role in the title-clinching win.

In a game-high 46 minutes of play, Holiday finished just shy of logging a triple-double, scoring 12 points, dishing out 11 assists and grabbing nine rebounds. He also had four steals in the game and the Bucks outscored the Suns by 12 when he was on the floor.

Holiday was great when it mattered most for Milwaukee. And without his season-long effort, the Bucks may not have been in a position to win the title at all.

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Holiday Was the Missing Link

Seemingly destined for big things, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks had twice come up short in their title bid before breaking through this season. In 2018-19, they finished with a league-best 60-22 record during the regular season, only to lose in six games to the Toronto Raptors during the Eastern Conference Finals.

The following year, the Bucks again finished with the top record only to be stunned in Round 2 by the Miami Heat, who won the series in five games.

Although those squads boasted a quality point guard in Eric Bledsoe, the veteran struggled mightily during postseason play. In the aforementioned Raptors series, Bledsoe converted on just 29.4% of his field-goal attempts and 17.2% from three-point range. Against the Heat in the bubble, he similarly posted 33.3/21.4 shooting splits.

Bledsoe had played a key role in getting the Bucks into the title picture but he couldn’t impact games the same way when his shot failed him. Clearly, the team needed a different mix.

Enter Holiday, who was acquired in a four-team trade in November that sent Bledsoe to the New Orleans Pelicans. The moment that deal went through, the door to a title had officially been unlocked for the Bucks.

Holiday had an incredible first season with Milwaukee. In 59 games with the Bucks, he put up 17.7 points, 6.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals per contest. He also logged the best shooting numbers of his career, making 50.3% of his shots overall and 39.2% from deep.

His net rating of 9.2 was second-best on the team, trailing Antetokounmpo by just 0.6 points per 100 possessions.

Those efforts continued into postseason play where, even when his efficiency dipped at times, he still found ways to get buckets, find the open man and play the part of a disruptor defensively. As a result, the Bucks finally got to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy once again.

Holiday’s Sixers Career at a Glance

Holiday may have had his best basketball moment on Tuesday as a member of the Bucks, but he became a star in Philly with the Sixers.

As a rookie in ’09-10, the former UCLA standout impressed to the point that he became the team’s starting point guard midway through the season. In year two, it was clear that he was already one of the Association’s better point guards, as he averaged 14.0 points, 6.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals per contest.

That year, he combined with Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala to lead Philly to a 41-41 record and a playoff berth. However, Holiday and Co. were quickly dispatched in Round 1 by the Heat, who were in their first go-round with a Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The following season would represent the high-water mark for Holiday’s Sixers career. After finishing 35-31 during the lockout-shortened ’11-12 campaign, Philly entered postseason play as a No. 8 seed. The team went on to log a historic upset, besting the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in six games.

In the second round, Holiday and the Sixers took the Boston Celtics to seven games before calling it a year.

Although the Sixers wouldn’t reach the postseason again with Holiday running point, his individual growth continued. By year four, he was an All-Star, averaging 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game in ’12-13.

He was traded on draft night in 2013 for Nerlens Noel — who many had felt would be the No. 1 pick before a torn left ACL felled him — and a future first-rounder. It was the move that officially tipped off Sam Hinkie’s Process, the rebuilding plan that resulted in the version of the Sixers that exists today.

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