Bucks

Holiday, Tucker Continue to Be Crucial Cogs in Cream City

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When Milwaukee dropped Game 5 to the Brooklyn Nets, pundits clamored that it was the same old Milwaukee Bucks.

The following two games, however, proved this year’s Bucks are a different squad. Milwaukee blasted the Nets in Game 6 and won the franchise’s first-ever Game 7 on the road, 115-111 in overtime. Now, the Deer are in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in three years.

And while there are many reasons why Milwaukee is in the Conference Finals, the acquisitions of Jrue Holiday and PJ Tucker rank highly.

The stoic intensity of Holiday and the dog mentality of Tucker gave the Bucks a toughness this team missed in years past.

GM Jon Horst acquired Holiday in an offseason trade and Tucker a week prior to the 2021 Trade Deadline. Horst also signed Bobby Portis in the offseason– he wanted more mental and physical toughness for this Bucks squad.

And has it paid off.

“WE’RE DOGS”

Tucker wasn’t the flashiest trade acquisition, but he might have provided the biggest payoff. Much of what Tucker does not show up in a box score, but feeling his energy and intensity, particularly defensively, is remarkable. He has given the Bucks a toughness that’s hard to measure.

Tucker may have said it best after a first-round Game 3 win over Miami.

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“We dogs,” Tucker said. “…People’s perceptions of us and what people think in the past, we’re erasing all of that. We’re coming out every night focused, not shying away from moments. I wasn’t here. Jrue wasn’t here. Bobby, we got a bunch of new guys in addition to everybody that’s been here. We’re just bringing that mentality, and that’s what it’s about. Carrying that mentality every game, every possession, every day.”

While Kevin Durant played sensationally in the series, averaging 35.4 points per game, Tucker made him work for everything. Tucker guarding Durant is part of why the Bucks acquired him. What you get from Tucker offensively is golden, and he provided some — 11 points — in Game 7. Tucker’s work defensively and the dog mentality he imprinted on this team is a big reason why the Bucks are moving on.

WHEN IT MATTERED MOST, JRUE DELIVERS

Holiday wasn’t great against the Nets, but when it mattered most, he showed the mental fortitude indicative of this Bucks team.

Holiday was 2-for-17 from the field in Game 7 and was giving Bucks fans flashbacks to Eric Bledsoe‘s past playoff failures. But in the final six minutes of regulation, Holiday showed he mentally dwarfs Bledsoe. Jrue canned three field goals and made a sensational assist to Khris Middleton for a three-pointer in the final minutes of regulation.

Despite only shooting 36 percent from the field in the series, Holiday contributed mental toughness. To be 2-for-17 and step up with huge buckets is something that took substantial, ahem, stones.

Holiday handling the ball and not having Giannis with the ball at the top of the key meant no wall. He also got the Bucks lined up and in the right spots, including on the final play.

Jrue’s steadiness at point guard and ability to rise to the occasion was missing in the Bucks’ past playoff failures. Bledsoe was a statue in the corner. Holiday is a crucial cog and maestro of the Bucks offense. Oh, and as good as Bledsoe was defensively, by all accounts, Holiday’s defense is better. Who forced a Durant airball on a potential game-tying shot at the end of overtime? Holiday, who wouldn’t be muscled for space, despite giving up seven inches to Durant.

LOOKING AHEAD

The Deer begin its best-of-seven series against Atlanta on Wednesday. Point-guard sensation Trae Young unquestionably leads the Hawks.

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Holiday may be the most important player to get Milwaukee to the NBA Finals. Milwaukee will task him with slowing down Young, and he will dog give Young fits. Young will likely guard Jrue on the other end, as well, where Holiday has a substantial physical advantage in height and strength.

Holiday and Tucker already proved to be difference-makers for this year’s Bucks. Tucker proved his abilities against Brooklyn. While Holiday performed well vs. Miami, was clutch against Brooklyn, he will show the world how valuable he is as a two-way player against Atlanta.

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About Mitchell Skurzewski

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