Struggling offensively while defending the hottest-scoring NBA Finals backcourt duo in 50 years, Milwaukee's Jrue Holiday says he must step up for the Bucks to overcome the Phoenix Suns.
Holiday has shot a woeful 11-of-35 from the floor in the first two games of the best-of-seven championship showdown, both Phoenix wins, while being given the exhausting task of containing Suns star guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker as well as scoring.
"There's a great challenge for Jrue," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "The amount of effort it takes, and that we're putting on his shoulders defensively, is significant. But it's the finals. Everybody has got to be able to do it at a high level on both ends of the court.
"Certainly appreciate and respect what Jrue has got to do defensively and do it on big minutes. But we feel like he can do both. He can deliver in a big way on defense and still deliver in a big way on offense, too."
So far, Holiday hasn't done so. The Bucks had weak support to a 42-point, 12-rebound effort from Giannis Antetokounmpo in game two.
"We've got to help him out a little bit," Holiday said.
That means having the energy to attack late after racing around the court after Booker and Paul all night.
"It has literally been like that this whole playoff experience," Holiday said. "I'm not complaining. I signed up for it. That's the reason why I'm here. At times it might get tiring for offense and I know I'm just going to have to exhaust myself on defense.
"But that's where everybody else, and even me at times, have to step up and do different things.
"To be able to pick somebody up in full court, be fighting me the whole game, and to be able to come down toward the end of the game and knock down shots, sometimes your legs might be tired or your arms or whatever, so really just try to make it difficult on them."
Paul and Booker have the most points over two games of any finals backcourt in half a century, which is especially annoying to Holiday.
"I don't like being scored on. It just isn't my nature. It bugs me to my core," Holiday said. "Even against the best players in the world, I like to be able to stop somebody from scoring and go down there and score on you."
Milwaukee's P.J. Tucker says more attacking play from Holiday is vital to unlocking the Bucks offensively.
"For Jrue, playing both sides, we definitely need him to be more aggressive, as aggressive as possible," Tucker said. "Because when he's playing like that, it kind of unlocks everything else for our team. But he's capable. It's what he does."
He's also the fiercest player the Bucks have to try and limit Paul and Booker.
"Jrue Holiday is a good defender because he's relentless," Tucker said. "He's always, always moving. Always reading plays, sniffing plays out. His pursuit is incredible. He's definitely he's the best I've seen and been around."
- 'A little frustrating' -
Holiday also allows the rest of the Bucks' defensive scheme to work at peak efficiency.
"He's a very, very good defender. We need every bit of that against both Paul and Booker in this series," Budenholzer said. "He's very unique. When we're good defensively, it starts with Jrue.
"They've shot the ball amazing. It's on us to be physical and really make it a little bit tougher."
It didn't help that Khris Middleton went 5-of-11 for 11 points and 1-of-6 from 3-point range in game two.
"In the first half, I had some shots that just went in and out. Second half, just wasn't able to find a way to get myself going," Middleton said.
"It's a little frustrating, when you feel like they're going in and they just find a way to pop outside of the rim.
"But you just got to stay with it. I have a short memory with my shots because you can't make them all. Hopefully I won't miss them all. Just stay the course, stay confident and keep being aggressive."