How Jrue Holiday Convinced Giannis Antetokounmpo He Was the Missing Piece to the Championship Puzzle

The Milwaukee Bucks knew they needed to land another star to convince Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign a supermax extension, and Jrue Holiday was that star.

The Bucks made the big move to acquire Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans last November, giving up a slew of assets — including two first-round picks — to bring the veteran point guard to Milwaukee. While the trade gave the Bucks a more noted scorer, defender, and playmaker at the point, some wondered whether general manager Jon Horst gave up too much for a player who (while being an impact guy) might not have enough juice to help the franchise win a championship.

As it turned out, Holiday needed just one practice to show Antetokounmpo why he was indeed the missing piece to the championship puzzle.

Jrue Holiday has a reputation for being arguably the best defensive guard in the NBA

Casual NBA fans might not really understand the depth of Jrue Holiday’s talents, but his peers are more than aware of the impact he has on a nightly basis. That is especially true on the defensive end of the floor.

Numerous star players praised Holiday’s defensive abilities over the course of the past season. Last August, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard told J.J. Redick that Holiday is the best defensive guard in the NBA.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant told Redick the exact same thing just one month later. He explained that Holiday consistently guards the best player and is a tough matchup because he slides his feet and can negate the effectiveness of pick-and-roll actions.

All this praise, mind you, came just before Holiday’s move from New Orleans to Milwaukee. Thus, while the word was out, Antetokounmpo had yet to fully grasp the extent of Holiday’s excellence on that end of the floor.

It didn’t take long for the Greek Freak to get a taste.

Bucks governor Marc Lasry recalls the moment Holiday convinced Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign the supermax

Giannis Antetokounmpo did not immediately sign the supermax after the Bucks acquired Holiday from the Pelicans. But it wasn’t long before he understood that the scrappy guard could be a vital piece in helping him win his first NBA title.

Bucks governor Marc Lasry recalled Antetokounmpo gushing about Holiday after the very first practice of the season. Lasry added that exposure to Holiday’s talents played a critical role in the two-time MVP agreeing to sign the supermax.

“You know, I remember the first practice and Jrue is covering Giannis,” Lasry said, via The Athletic. “And same thing — Giannis knew Jrue by reputation. After practice that day, Jon says to me, ‘Yeah, Giannis now knows how good he is. (Holiday’s) covering him. He’s good.’ It was actually great. It was. And I think 100 percent it was a huge factor in Giannis re-signing because he saw what we were willing to do.”

One practice in December. That’s all it took for Holiday to convince Giannis to commit his future to the Bucks organization. Two weeks later, Antetokounmpo signed the supermax. Seventh months after that, he and Holiday hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy together.

Holiday offset poor shooting with outstanding defense during the 2021 NBA Finals

Bucks stars Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo high-five during the Eastern Conference Finals
Antetokounmpo carried the offensive load in the Finals, while Holiday disrupted Phoenix’s talented backcourt | Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Jrue Holiday didn’t exactly put on a scoring clinic during the NBA Finals, but he still had a positive impact on the series.

Holiday shot a fairly woeful 36.1% from the field over the course of the six games. Still, he was a noted playmaker on both ends of the floor, averaging 9.3 assists and 2.2 steals. His defensive presence was significant.

The 31-year-old was brilliant when matched up with Devin Booker. Holiday held Booker to 9-of-25 shooting from the field and 2-of-9 from beyond the arc through the first five games, per Booker then shot 8-of-22 from the field and was held scoreless from deep in Game 6.

Holiday also made things difficult for Chris Paul and forced him into uncharacteristic turnovers. The Point God never really looked comfortable on the ball as the series went along.

Antetokounmpo deservedly garnered all the headlines with a Finals performance for the ages. But Holiday did what he does best in delivering the Bucks their first championship in 50 years. Giannis likely saw it coming from the very first practice of the season.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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