Jrue Holiday keeps saying it doesn’t matter if he starts.
All the Pelicans point guard really wants is to be in the game at the end.
And in Saturday’s 105-103 win against the Brooklyn Nets, Holiday made his case to be a closer.
Holiday scored the Pelicans’ final five points — including a game-winning fadeaway jumper with 1.3 seconds to play — to lift New Orleans to its seventh win in nine games and its second straight.
“If I’m not starting, I’d rather be in the end of games,” said Holiday, who’s come off the bench the past 26 games he’s played. “I’ve been in those types of situations a lot since I’ve been in the league. If I have the ball or not, that doesn’t really matter. But I do think I can bring something to the team, if it’s defense or cutting or whatever it is, towards the end of the game.”
On Saturday, it was shot-making.
Holiday’s 3-pointer with 9.3 seconds to play put the Pelicans in front 103-100, and after Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson answered with a 3-pointer to tie the game at the 6.9-second mark, Holiday came up in the clutch again.
Holiday took an inbound pass from Norris Cole and dribbled right. He lost his handle on the ball when the Nets’ Thomas Robinson slapped at it, then gathered and sank a fadeaway 19-footer with 1.3 seconds on the clock to put the Pelicans in front 105-103.
Brooklyn inbounded near midcourt to Johnson, whose one-handed heave was online.
“That would have been a disaster,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said, but it missed off the back of the rim, leaving Holiday the hero.
“Two big shots. That’s Jrue Holiday,” said Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds in his first game back after a one-game absence with a concussion. “It’s nothing new for him. That’s the good thing about Jrue. He doesn’t care if he starts. If he doesn’t, he just wants to be in the game when it counts. I’m glad we had him in there tonight.”
Significantly, Holiday shared the court for much of the fourth quarter with Davis and Ryan Anderson, and while the Pelicans had their defensive issues — Brooklyn outscored New Orleans 37-34 in the fourth — that trio creates problems all over the floor for a defense.
Holiday scored a team-high 26 points. Anderson finished with 24.
Holiday, Anderson and Davis combined to score 32 of the Pelicans’ 34 fourth-quarter points.
“When Jrue has the ball and I’m diving (to the rim) and Ryan’s popping, you’ve got to pick your poison,” Davis said. “Jrue did a great job of making the reads and hitting the right guys.”
New Orleans (18-28) needed every one of those reads to pull out a win against a Nets team that lost 91-79 Friday night in Dallas. Brook Lopez had 33 points and 10 rebounds for Brooklyn, which led by nine points in the first quarter and tied the game four times but didn’t take the lead in the fourth.
It helped that Davis returned for New Orleans, though his rocky start didn’t provide a boost. Davis, who learned on Friday he had cleared the NBA’s return-to-participation protocol, went scoreless in the first half on 0-for-9 shooting and missed his first 10 shots overall.
But he made 9 of 13 shots in the second half and had 10 rebounds after halftime.
“When they told me (Friday) I was cleared to play, I actually went in the gym and started shooting,” Davis said. “It probably didn’t show in the first half, but I was actually making shots during the workout. I got it back the second half.”
Holiday and Anderson had it, too. The three combined for 51 of New Orleans’ 61 second-half points. Norris Cole had six points after halftime, Omer Asik and Alonzo Gee two each.
Having Davis, Holiday and Anderson on the floor together — particularly when Cole and Holiday push the ball upcourt in a hurry — gives the Pelicans “opportunities to really attack the basket and get something out of it most times,” Gentry said, when Holiday is coming off screens, Davis is diving to the paint and Anderson is spaced out on the perimeter.
In crunch time on Saturday, Holiday got the chance to make it all work, and he seized the opportunity. As long as he gets that, he’s not concerned with coming off the bench.
“Tell him there’s a good chance that he’ll be in there,” Gentry said Saturday after Holiday’s heroics. “Tell him there’s a pretty good chance he’ll be in there at the end.”