MikeCheck: Holiday arrives in desperate times as Grizzlies grind to rescue themselves from slide
NEW ORLEANS – The battle always comes before the bear hug of approval.
That’s typically how it plays out now when someone new joins the Grizzlies. Unofficially, consider it the ‘Stack Up To Stackhouse’ indoctrination. Last month, it was Joakim Noah who went through it after arriving as a free agent.
The other night, it was newly acquired swingman Justin Holiday who was initially greeted with a workout battle on the court before receiving the welcoming bear hug ahead of Saturday’s debut in San Antonio.
Already lathered in sweat, assistant coach and former NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse sized up Holiday on the baseline, then drove toward the basket before spinning into the lane for a turnaround jumper. Holiday contested the shot and forced Stackhouse to miss. Now, it was Holiday’s turn on offense. He collected the ball, spotted up and nailed a corner three-pointer over Stackhouse’s outstretched arms.
Moments later, the pregame workout was done as the two bumped fists and embraced.
“One thing I told the coaches when I got here was that they won’t have to worry about me working hard and fitting right in,” Holiday told Grind City Media. “That’s already who I am, what I do anyway.”
Holiday’s crash course in the playing rotation continues Monday in his second game with the Grizzlies (18-21) as they face the Pelicans (18-22). The game carries added significance for both Memphis and Holiday, considering developments over the weekend.
This is an unforgiving league. We have to do what it takes to save ourselves, dig our way out and be active participants in that process. All we have are the guys in that locker room.J.B. Bickerstaff
There’s added urgency for the Grizzlies, who have matched their longest losing streak of the season with five straight defeats and have dropped 16 of their last 22 overall. Their best chance to end the skid may be against the similarly struggling Pelicans, who have lost nine of their last 14 since a 107-103 home setback Dec. 7 to Memphis.
After Monday, the Grizzlies’ next six games are against the Spurs, Heat, Rockets, Bucks, Celtics and Raptors – all positioned solidly in the playoff picture and a combined 53 games above the .500 mark.
“Again, you look and realize that nobody is coming to save us,” Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of his team’s recent slide. “This is an unforgiving league. We have to do what it takes to save ourselves, dig our way out and be active participants in that process. All we have are the guys in that locker room.”
Holiday arrived in that locker room at both a turbulent and opportune time. The seven-year veteran was acquired from the Bulls in Friday’s trade in which Memphis sent MarShon Brooks, Wayne Selden and two future second-round draft picks to Chicago. The trade process wasn’t officially finalized until Saturday, just hours before the Grizzlies faced the Spurs on the second night of a back-to-back set.
That meant there was no real practice time for Holiday to get acclimated with his new team. Hence, the intense pregame workout between the 6-6 journeyman shooting guard and the 6-6 and still impressively fit Stackhouse on the court in San Antonio to pick up as much as he could on the fly.
Holiday then came off the bench in the first quarter for his first action with the Grizzlies and finished with two rebounds, two assists and two points on 1-for-7 shooting in 21 minutes during the 108-88 loss.
“It’s just going to take a little time,” Holiday said. “With change, there’s always an adjustment period. Hopefully, that period is short, but it’s going to take time for them to get used to me and for me to get used to them. When you come to a new team, it’s just a whole bunch of things thrown at you at once. I won’t know it right away, like the back of my hand. But hopefully, I can help a little bit in that time.”
Jrue Holiday #11 of the New Orleans Pelicans and Justin Holiday #7 of the Chicago Bulls react during a preseason game at the Smoothie King Center on October 3, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Jonathan Bachman via Getty Images.
The Grizzlies will need to fast-track getting Holiday up to speed. Holiday’s length, shooting and defense were viewed as ideal fits for the Grizzlies when he arrived ranked in the top 10 among NBA players in steals and made three-pointers this season. But his availability now is essential, with general manager Chris Wallace announcing Sunday that forward Chandler Parsons will continue his conditioning process away from the team.
Memphis will also be without forward Dillon Brooks, who suffered a toe injury late in Saturday’s loss to the Spurs. Brooks underwent an MRI when the team arrived in New Orleans on Sunday, did not participate in Monday's shootaround and is considered day-to-day with right toe soreness, Bickerstaff said. Although Parsons hadn’t played since October, Brooks had recently returned from a six-week absence to recover from a sprained knee.
Holiday should see extensive playing time in a wing rotation that starts Garrett Temple and Kyle Anderson at shooting guard and small forward, but doesn’t have much available depth right now. Holiday wants to make the most of his opportunity to help ignite the offense and get the Grizzlies get back into playoff contention.
“We just want him to do what he does,” Bickerstaff said of Holiday. “He gives us a little bit of a bounce and a little bit of length that we don’t have on that perimeter position. And obviously, the shot-making is a need for us right now. So we’ll put him in positions where he can do that. That effort will be there.”
The qualifications are there, too. Holiday averaged 11.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals in 38 starts for Chicago this season on an expiring, $4.5 millon contract. He’s scored at least 20 points in three games and also posted three double-doubles. Holiday broke Kirk Hinrich’s Chicago franchise record for longest streak of games with a three-point make when he knocked down at least one in 43 straight contests through Dec. 21.
“That’s the reason why I got this (NBA) job in the first place,” said Holiday, who won a championship as a role player with the Warriors in 2015 and also had stints with the Sixers, Hawks and Knicks. “But defense is what got me here (with Memphis). I do like the way this team defends and has each other’s backs. I think I can complement this team, my team, defensively. I can come in and give that spark we need.”
He gives us a little bit of a bounce and a little bit of length that we don’t have on that perimeter position. And obviously, the shot-making is a need for us right now. So we’ll put him in positions where he can do that. That effort will be there.J.B. Bickerstaff
Holiday has already made a solid impression on his Memphis teammates. The combination of recent losses piling up, trade speculation, awkwardness surrounding the Parsons’ ordeal and last week’s tension in the locker room created a dour mood around the team. But Holiday’s arrival provided a needed positive vibe. Monday's shootaround was as festive and energetic a workout as the Grizzlies have had in recent days.
“He definitely fits the mode of what we’re trying to accomplish here,” guard Mike Conley said of Holiday. “You try to give him as much (help) as you can right now, but you don’t want to overload him. You bring him along so when he does get into the game, he knows two or three things well. He doesn’t have to know the whole playbook now.”
Conley also said he knows Holiday comes from a good family that plays the game well. Among the perks of the trade is that Holiday joined the Grizzlies just in time to face his younger brother and Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday. Justin and Jrue are 14 months apart in age and their current teams have three remaining matchups this season as Southwest Division rivals. While with the Bulls, Justin played in the same Central Division as youngest brother Aaron Holiday, a rookie point guard with the Indiana Pacers.
NBA Draft Prospect Aaron Holiday (C) poses with brothers Justin Holiday and Jrue Holiday during the 2018 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 21, 2018 in New York City. Photo by Mike Stobe via Getty Images.
Currently, they represent the only set of three siblings simultaneously on NBA rosters.
That makes Monday’s game a family affair for the Holidays.
“I didn’t think I was going to play them again so soon, no,” Justin said through a beaming smile. “But I get to see family. We still have more games against both of my brothers. So it’s good. It’s all good.”
Based on his time with the Warriors, the championship pride is there with Holiday. As the eldest NBA sibling, he obviously represents a strong hoops pedigree. Coming directly from the Bulls, Holiday is battle tested in adversity.
Now adjusting to the Grizzlies, he’s already Stack-approved.
Grizzlies guard-forward Justin Holiday talks with Grind City Media's Michael Wallace following Saturday’s matchup against the Spurs.
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