Marcus Hayes: Holiday close to being the star Sixers need

Sixers' Jrue Holiday was at his best during the playoffs against two of the NBA's better defensive teams.
Sixers' Jrue Holiday was at his best during the playoffs against two of the NBA's better defensive teams. (RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: May 31, 2012

IT WAS SUNDAY, locker cleanout day, and Elton Brand, the franchise's spokesman, looked sharp.

He wore a white, checked shirt, bespoke, casually elegant. Brand knew he would be asked to stand in front of the microphones and review the Sixers' season.

Jrue Holiday, the franchise's future, wore a soft gray V-neck T-shirt. And a SpongeBob SquarePants hat.

Backward.

A team official asked Holiday to remove the hat before the cameras rolled.

"That's the second time," Brand said.

What Brand meant was, it was the second time in 3 days that Holiday's attire was too informal for public consumption.

He didn't look like a bum, or a thug, or anything like that. He never does. He just didn't look professional enough for the moment.

But he was close. Off the court and on it, Holiday is so close to getting everything just right.

"That's a good analogy," Brand said, laughing.

Brand, at 33, is not an old man. He is an old player. Carrying the Bulls and Clippers franchises for the first 8 years of his career as a No. 1 overall pick bent his back, and it honed his instincts.

Brand looks at Holiday, 21, and sees himself: a rare talent possessed of intelligence, maturity, toughness . . . and the hopes of an organization on his shoulders.

"He's close," Brand said. "I don't know what the arc is. But he's close."

Philadelphia has seen "close" before. Recently, in fact.

LeSean McCoy was close in 2010, his second pro season. In 2011, he set the Eagles' record for rushing touchdowns and became the NFL's most dangerous running back and the Eagles' most potent weapon.

Claude Giroux was close in 2010, when he exploded for 21 points in 23 playoff games. An All-Star the next two seasons, Giroux made a run at this year's Hart Trophy as the MVP of the NHL.

Cole Hamels was close in 2007, when he followed a regular season with a surreal and disappointing postseason start. In the 2008 playoffs, Hamels went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA and was the NLCS and World Series MVP. He has been a playoff stud since.

Holiday can follow McCoy, Giroux and Hamels.

He has the talent, and he has the grit.

Brand, who fought injury issues for the past four seasons, played the last 11 playoff games with a neck issue that he suspects is vertebral.

Holiday took an elbow to the nose in the first half of the regular-season playoff clincher. He played the second half with a bandage on the cut and with his nostrils stuffed with gauze to stem the blood flow. A dark scar remains.

A man earns his scars.

"I think Jrue Holiday really elevated himself," said Sixers coach Doug Collins, who coached Michael Jordan, Grant Hill and Rip Hamilton as young players. "I think the kid has star quality written all over him."

Stars shine in the darkest hours.

The Sixers needed to win at least three of their final five games of the season to make the playoffs. All five were on the road. In a lineup that had frequent role changes over the compressed season, Holiday went into that stretch having averaged 13.4 points and 4.4 assists.

Over the next three games, Holiday averaged 18.7 points and 5.3 assists. He shot 51.2 percent from the floor. He made seven of 12 three-pointers. After those three wins, the Sixers were in.

Holiday then averaged 15.8 points, 5.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 13 playoff games.

"I definitely learned that carrying the load offensively opens it up for everything," Holiday said Sunday.

"Eventually, he has to be our quarterback. He has to be the guy with the ball in his hands," Collins said. "We've got to be able to become more of a traditional team."

Traditional, in that the Sixers cannot rely on an undersized shooting guard to bail them out in the fourth quarter. Traditional, in that they need a dependable shooter who is not a defensive liability or undersized. Traditional, in that they need a post presence they can rely on for 15 points, 10 rebounds and physical defense every night.

None of that works without a quarterback. Collins believes he has his man:

"He played against two of the best defenses in the NBA. And what he did for us . . . man."

The other young players did not shrink, either. Rookie center Lavoy Allen absorbed elbows and head-butts from demonically abusive Kevin Garnett, and calmly knocked down jumpers on offense. Evan Turner turned into a credible defender in Collins' innovative schemes. Scrappy Thaddeus Young . . . scrapped.

"Watching our guys - I could just see them becoming men," Collins said. "Their whole demeanor, in the locker room, before games."

The entire squad grew. No one grew more than young Jrue.

It was Holiday who locked down Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver against the Bulls. Holiday, who dropped 20 in Game 6 against the Celtics to avoid elimination . . .

And Holiday, whose postgame denim outfit was then deemed unacceptable.

Hey. He's close.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/marcushayes.

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