When the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans face off in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Saturday night at Moda Center, all eyes will be on the intriguing point guard match-up: Damian Lillard against Jrue Holiday. Both floor generals are having career seasons, and will look to carry their impressive regular season numbers into the postseason.
The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks has the match-up among the five best in the opening round of the playoffs, and breaks down what to expect from the duo:
Like Butler, Holiday will have to handle a massive two-way role in this series due to the defensive limitations of his teammates. He guarded Lillard on 127 possessions this season, while Lillard guarded him on only 65. The Pelicans don’t have any other options. The days of Rajon Rondo being a defensive stopper are gone, and Holiday (6-foot-4 and 205 pounds with a 6-foot-7 wingspan) is roughly the same size as E’Twaun Moore, their starting small forward. Putting a smaller defender on Lillard is a nightmare, since he can pull up off the dribble and shoot 3s from almost anywhere on the court.
Holiday’s offense could help his defense, since the easiest way to slow down a shooter like Lillard is to get into his legs and make him work on the other end of the floor. Dame has spent most of his time against New Orleans this season guarding Moore, a spot-up shooter who won’t threaten him off the dribble. If Holiday can take advantage of Evan Turner and C.J. McCollum, he could force Portland head coach Terry Stotts to abandon the cross-switch and keep Lillard, who is playing the best defense of his career, on him.
Lillard averaged 26.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists on the regular season, shooting just shy of 44% from the field and just over 36% from three. Holiday averaged 19 points, 4.5 rebounds and six assists on 49% shooting, but only 33.7% from distance. Holiday played second fiddle offensively to Anthony Davis following the injury to DeMarcus Cousins, while Lillard has been the Blazers’ offensive leader all season long.
Game one tips off Saturday night at 7:30 pm PT. The entire series schedule is available here.