Holiday Called Upon, Answers Emphatically

On the top of one black shoe, with a silver marking pen, the letters C.Y.D. had been carefully printed. The other shoe read C.Y.O.H.

Feel free to take a minute to figure out the points Aaron Holiday was trying to make to himself. They must have been important, because he played a crucial role in the Pacers' 111-102 victory over Detroit on Monday in an uplifting game that would have raised a giant red flag over Bankers Life Fieldhouse had it gone the other way. They remain tied with Boston for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings, but are effectively in fifth because the Celtics control the tiebreaker.

Holiday, playing 25 1/2 minutes off the bench because starting guards Darren Collison and Wesley Matthews sat out with injuries that likely will keep them out of Wednesday's rematch in Detroit, contributed 10 points while hitting 2-of-3 3-pointers, five assists, and meaningful defense.

He was just one of seven Pacers in double figures, but was the least expected one and thus probably the most important one. His play was crucial to a bench unit that came under harsh criticism from coach Nate McMillan following Saturday's loss to Orlando but sparked a second-quarter run that turned an 11-point first-quarter deficit into a three-point halftime lead.

"I think he's going to be a really good guard in this league," McMillan said. "He keeps himself ready to play and when he's called upon he's played solid minutes for us."

The challenge for the rookie is getting called upon. When Collison, Matthews, Cory Joseph, and Tyreke Evans are healthy, Holiday is the odd man out. He'll probably be the odd man out again once Collison and Matthews return, but a performance such as Monday's gives McMillan the confidence to make him a regular guy in the lineup if necessary.

Holiday is in the same tenuous position as his former UCLA teammate, TJ Leaf. Both have proven themselves capable of contributing, but are backing up more experienced players. Come the pressures of playoff time, coaches lean toward their known quantities.

"You're talking about playing 12 guys (if you play Holiday and Leaf each game)," McMillan said. "It's the same thing with TJ. But once we get to the playoffs we're going to put guys out there who are getting it done...there may be some minutes for him."

Some fans have voiced their desire for him to replace Tyreke Evans in the rotation, but Evans, who is seven years older and a veteran of nine more seasons, reasserted himself Monday by scoring 13 points and hitting 4-of-6 3-pointers. Evans banged knees in the loss to Orland on Saturday and had the knee drained afterward. He was listed as questionable for this game, and said he might not have played if Collison and/or Matthews was available.

"I knew we needed to win this game," he said. "I just wanted to push through and fight it."

Holiday was no less impressive, though, adding another highlight to a rookie ride that's familiar for a late first-round draft pick. He took advantage of Victor Oladipo's first injury in the game against Atlanta on Nov. 17 to score 12 second-half points in 15 minutes. He went on to score in double figures in six consecutive games, including a 19-point outing against Utah on 7-of-10 shooting.

But he followed by averaging 4.3 points on 29 percent shooting over the next six games. He's received only patches of playing time since then. He had played in just eight of the 21 games previous to Monday, and sat out the previous three. But he was showing improvement. He had 11 points in his previous appearance against Denver, and 13 in the game prior to that at Golden State.

He's had no choice but to learn to live with it.

Aaron Holiday, Jeremiah Johnson, Doug McDermott

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

"It's not easy, but at the end of the day you get to play basketball again," he said. "You just wait your turn. That's what everybody tells you, wait your turn and eventually it will come.

"I'm getting more comfortable."

It shows in the way Holiday takes his foot off the accelerator at appropriate times. Whereas he once "was going 100 miles per hour" as he put it and firing up shots as if he might never seen the ball again, he has slowed down.

"Now I've learned to change pace and see the defense," he said.

His 3-pointer with 1:22 left in the first quarter took a chunk out of Detroit's 11-point lead. He then teamed with Leaf, Domantas Sabonis, Doug McDermott, and Bojan Bogdanovic to get the lead down to three points midway through the second period. McMillan then began trickling in starters, but stuck with Holiday until 1:23 remained, by which time the Pacers had taken the lead.

He took just one shot in the period, hitting another 3-pointer, and had four assists, and no turnovers. He also kept Pistons guard Reggie Jackson in check, limiting him to just one field goal in the five minutes they were on the court together. They matched up again for five minutes in the fourth quarter, during which Jackson hit a transition layup but missed two step-back 3-pointers and committed two offensive fouls against Holiday's smothering defense.

"Two-way player," McMillan said. "He gave us very good minutes tonight."

Holiday's performance was equally notable for what it didn't include — bad shots. Early in the season he was grudgingly admired for his fearlessness on offense, but not for his decision-making and, often, accuracy.

"We had to reel him in a little," Myles Turner said, smiling. "It's different being the man in college and then coming in and having to play a role. As the year's progressed he's been able to understand a little more. The best way to learn is to play, and he's doing a good job."

Which brings us back to the shoes.

C.Y.D. stands for "Chase Your Dreams." Holiday is doing that just by being a rookie in the NBA.

C.Y.O.H.? That's "Create Your Own Happiness." He'll have to do that by being patient when he doesn't play and making the most of the opportunities when he does. And the way things are going, those opportunities will be coming — maybe only inconsistently for the remainder of this season, but likely soon enough for the 22-year-old two-way threat.

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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

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