Bucks’ Jrue Holiday could prove to be handful for Nets

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Steve Nash described Jrue Holiday on Friday as “an incredibly versatile defender,” but the Bucks must decide which member of the Nets’ star backcourt tandem — James Harden or Kyrie Irving — their point guard will be matched up against in their second-round playoff series.

Holiday was acquired by the Bucks just before the 2020-21 regular season began, and the 12-year NBA veteran turned out to be their missing piece, with effective play at both ends of the court, including in Milwaukee’s first-round sweep of the Heat.

“I’ve known Jrue since high school. We’ve been competing since high school,” Harden said Friday on a Zoom call ahead of Saturday’s series opener at Barclays Center. “He can move his feet very, very good, and he’s strong. That right there in itself as a guard, you can move your feet, you’re athletic and you’re strong to play against guards and bigger guards, he’s difficult.

“He doesn’t get a lot of credit on the [All-NBA] defensive teams, which I don’t know why. He’s elite, so we’ve got to make sure we keep moving him around and make the job easier for ourselves.”

Jrue Holiday drives against the Nets defense.

The 30-year-old Holiday likely is headed for the third All-Defensive Team designation of his career. He was a first-team choice in 2017-18 and a second-team selection the following season, both with the Pelicans.

Harden played — but Irving did not — in the first meeting between the teams in January, netting 34 points in a Nets win in his second game following his acquisition from Houston. Harden sat out the next two head-to-head meetings, however, with Irving totaling 58 points in the two Milwaukee victories.

“Tendencies and playing style,” the 6-foot-3 Holiday responded Friday when asked the difference between guarding the 6-2 Irving and the 6-5 Harden. “They both get to the paint. Obviously one is taller, one is shorter. But even though they do a lot of things the same, I think it’s the little things, just the tendencies, the things they like to do.

“They’re both very, very talented and can do pretty much everything on the offensive end. … But I do think it’s the little intricate things that you kind of realize that they like to do from playing against them for so many years.”

Holiday also did pretty much everything this season as the third option alongside stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton for the Bucks, earning a whopping four-year contract extension worth up to $160 million ($135 million guaranteed) in April. He averaged 17.7 points and 6.1 assists per game in 59 regular-season appearances and then 15.9 and 9.8 in those categories during the four-game sweep of Miami.

Holiday also was named Friday as the recipient of the NBA’s Joe Dumars Trophy for sportsmanship.

“We obviously respect how good a defender Jrue is. He has the strength, size, speed and agility, and so he’s an incredibly versatile defender, and we’ve seen it for years, how good he is defensively,” Nash said. “It’s definitely a huge part of his skill set and he’s been a big addition to the Bucks.”

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