July 15, 2024

Jrue Holiday makes strong impression in Team USA’s Olympic tune-up vs. Canada

Follow our Olympics coverage in the lead-up to the Paris Games.

LAS VEGAS — LeBron James and Stephen Curry and Joel Embiid, of course they started Team USA’s first game.

Devin Booker and Jrue Holiday were the other two who received the nod from coach Steve Kerr in the Americans’ Olympic-exhibition-opening 86-72 triumph over Canada.

We can try to rationalize, explain, even analyze the group as a whole, or Booker and Holiday’s place specifically. Or we can take Kerr at his word that lineups this early in Team USA’s summer are not predictors of who will be on the floor when the real games begin July 28 against Serbia at the Olympics.

“You kind of can’t go wrong picking a starting lineup with this (team),” Kerr said. “I think I told you guys the other day I’m going to do something different. The next two games, we’re just going to look at a few different combinations before we settle on anything.”

This was a game the Americans won largely with defense and rebounding — their two chief deficiencies last summer at the World Cup, albeit with a much different roster. No one expects offense to be the problem for the current iteration of Team USA by the time it arrives in Lille, France, for the start of the Olympics.

Curry was the top scorer among the U.S. starters with 12 points and three 3s. James, playing point forward, committed three turnovers and was better on the glass and on defense than he was as a shooter (3-of-7). Embiid fouled out in the third quarter and had four turnovers. Kerr said the Americans failed in trying to establish Embiid in the post because of those turnovers. Holiday contributed 11 points and Booker scored 9. Overall, the starters missed their first six shots and fell behind, 11-1.

“It’s a test and a challenge to try to figure out the chemistry,” Curry said. “There’s the flow and the rhythm, especially on offense, because there’s a temptation to defer, there’s temptation to overthink every possession because everybody can make a play. And when you have an advantage, you try to keep the game as simple as possible. At first, you know, we struggle with that. And, then once we got settled in, seemed like everybody got a little bit more comfortable as you go deeper into the game and, you know, hopefully the next four exhibition games we have, you’ll see more progress.”

With Kevin Durant out with a calf strain, and Kawhi Leonard sent home for the summer because his ailing left knee wasn’t strong enough for Team USA to count on him, Kerr’s two options on the wing were Booker or Jayson Tatum. Both are Olympic vets; Booker logged two more days of training camp than Tatum.

As for Holiday, another Olympic vet, he received the nod over Anthony Edwards, last summer’s leading scorer who kept up the bucket-getting from the bench with 13 points. Holiday’s presence could foreshadow a lineup scenario for a potential game against Canada in the Olympic knockout round because of who is on its roster.

The Canadians’ top two players are ball-dominant, scoring guards. One of them is an NBA MVP candidate, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who simply could not get past Holiday on Wednesday night. He shot 3-of-10 and was harassed by the thicker, stronger Holiday on numerous possessions. Canada’s other big-name guard, Jamal Murray, shot 2-of-8.

“Jrue was great,” Kerr said. “He’s one of the best defenders in the league. Not just on ball, but off ball. His help, his anticipation. But I thought that was one of the keys to the game, just the collective ball pressure that our guys had out there, and Jrue obviously leads the way in that regard.”

When Durant returns — which could be next week in Abu Dhabi, with games Monday and Wednesday against Australia and Serbia — it’s hard to envision a lineup that doesn’t include him, Curry, James, and Embiid. Anthony Davis far outplayed Embiid against Canada (10 points, 11 rebounds), but Embiid is a nearly 38 percent 3-point shooter in addition to being 7 feet tall.

Edwards could be the Americans’ big scorer off the bench (with Tatum and Booker able to lay claim to some bench points too). Or, Edwards or Booker could start next to Curry. But Holiday was arguably the second-best player for Team USA at the last Olympics, behind Durant, and he gives them the defensive presence on the perimeter in addition to all the hustle plays and technically sound offensive plays he makes.

Kerr may try all the combinations he wishes over the next few exhibition games, but with Leonard gone for the summer, Holiday’s first impression was a strong one.

(Photo of Jrue Holiday during Wednesday’s game: Brian Babineau / NBAE via Getty Images)