Removed from the turbulence that marked his previous seasons in New Orleans, Jrue Holiday is in a good place — and it shows.
Holiday had a career playoff-high 33 points as the Pelicans took a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers with a 111-102 victory on Tuesday night. The series shifts to New Orleans on Thursday.
Holiday struggled at times with injuries after coming to the Pelicans in 2013. Then in early 2016 he took a leave of absence when doctors discovered that his wife, former U.S. national soccer team player Lauren Holiday, had a brain tumor while she was pregnant with the couple’s first child.
“He’s been through some tough times, the first year he’s injured, he’s on minute restrictions through the greater part of the season, and then everybody’s familiar with the situation with his wife and what they had to go through there,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “Everybody’s healthy and in a good place now so I think mentally he’s in a good place.”
Holiday played Tuesday night with emotion he did not often show earlier in his career. He agreed that it felt a weight has been lifted.
“My family’s the most important thing to me, and with them being OK I can come back to the team freely and be able to help them out now,” Holiday said. “It’s been fun. I feel like my teammates and the organization definitely helped me out coming back from things with my family, and even the injuries, with being able to play and being able to perform at the peak I’m performing.”
Holiday also had nine assists for the Pelicans, while Rajon Rondo came close to his 11th postseason triple-double with had 16 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Anthony Davis added 22 points and 13 rebounds.
CJ McCollum, who struggled with backcourt teammate Damian Lillard in the opener, rebounded with 22 points to lead the Blazers.
Portland trailed by as many as 11 points in the third quarter but Lillard hit a 3-pointer and added a free throw to tie the game at 93 with 7:31 left. Holiday’s pull-up jumper and Rondo’s driving layup kept the Blazers from pulling ahead.
Maurice Harkless dunked and Al-Farouq Aminu had a layup to re-tie the game at 97. After Holiday’s hook shot, Harkless made a 3-pointer to give Portland a 100-99 lead.
Nikola Mirotic and Holiday each hit 3-pointers to put the Pelicans back in front 105-100 with 1:35 remaining and Portland couldn’t catch up. Fans at the Moda Center booed at the final buzzer.
Lillard finished with 17 points for the Blazers, who were hurt in the third quarter when starters Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) and Evan Turner (right toe) left the game.
The third-seeded Blazers, in the playoffs for the fifth straight year, dropped the first game against the Pelicans 97-95, becoming the highest seed to lose at the start of the opening round.
Davis had 35 points and Rondo had 17 assists to tie the franchise record. Lillard and McCollum combined to shoot just 13 for 41 in the opener.
Lillard said he expected more out of himself.
“Coming into the playoffs, you know teams are going to lock in and they’re going to try to make the game hard for you,” he said.
Portland got a boost in Game 2 with the return of Harkless for first time since he had a minor procedure on his left knee in late March. He missed 11 games.
McCollum shook off the Game 1 struggles, hitting four of eight from the floor in the opening quarter. His layup tied the game at 21 and then he dished to Harkless for the dunk to put the Blazer in front.
Portland led 35-30 after rookie Zach Collin’s bank shot and the Blazers led by as many as nine points before taking a 59-54 lead into halftime.
Davis made a short jumper from out front to give the Pelicans a 65-64 lead. Portland was hurt a short time later when Nurkic limped off the court and into the locker room. When he returned to the bench, he was flexing his left leg. He iced his leg the rest of the game.
Pelicans: Holiday had 12 points in the first quarter alone. … Davis had scored 25 or more in his first five post-season games. He came up a game shy tying LeBron James for the second-longest streak to begin a career, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 14 straight, according to Elias.
Trail Blazers: The third seed in the West has won its first-round series for the past four seasons. … Portland had home-court advantage in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. … Fans at the Moda Center were clearly upset with the officiating, taunting the refs with a chant in the final quarter.
QUOTABLE: “We’ve still got two more games to win, so we’re not celebrating anything,” Gentry said.