BOSTON — Clad in an understated cardigan sweater, without a pair of thick-rimmed glasses or a flashy button-up shirt in sight, Jrue Holiday appeared to be no threat to Rajon Rondo's "Swag" nickname or Clippers guard Nick Young's well-earned reputation for sartorial showiness.
Craig Sager, he is not.
Holiday had just finished scoring the most points and hitting one of the biggest shots in a crucial playoff victory on the road, but the third-year point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers was subdued. If any moment in these playoffs has been too big for the Los Angeles-area native, it has either not shown in his play or has not registered in his 21-year-old mind.
"I've always said Jrue has that Cali coolness about him," Sixers forward Andre Iguodala said. "It can be a gift and a curse. In pressure moments, that's definitely a plus for us because he's always even-keel out there and he doesn't let himself get too high or low emotionally."
Holiday continued his breakout playoff campaign with a quietly effective performance opposite Rondo in the Sixers' 82-81 victory over the Celtics in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. It was almost a surprise to see Holiday leading the box score with 18 points while shooting 4-for-6 from the 3-point line, because every one of his shots came within the flow of the Sixers' offense.
"I think we're growing," Holiday said. "We have a young team. I can't preach enough about our vets, just taking us under their wings and keeping us focused on paying attention to detail and the little things that help us win games."
The Sixers needed every bit Holiday contributed because Rondo had another fine game with eight points, 13 assists and only one turnover in more than 38 minutes. Holiday's biggest shot, and one of the biggest of the playoffs thus far for the Sixers, came shortly after Avery Bradley drilled a 3-pointer to give the Celtics a one-point lead with 2:26 left in the fourth quarter. On the next possession, without hesitation, Holiday dribbled up the court, stopped behind the arc and drained a three-ball of his own in response. The Celtics briefly regained the lead on a three by Ray Allen, but Evan Turner answered with four straight points to give the Sixers the lead for good, knotting up the series at 1-1.
Holiday's quick trigger pleased his coach, who has had to coerce some of his tentative young players to take open shots.
"As a player, I had no conscience," said Sixers coach Doug Collins, a former No. 1 overall draft pick. "I tell our players, don't look at the score. Don't look at the clock. Just shoot the ball. The worse thing that happens is we miss, we go back on defense and we play another play. Gosh, [the Celtics] hit a couple of unbelievable shots and we came back and were able to follow those up."
Holiday has managed to avoid much attention compared to some of the other point guards taken in the 2009 NBA Draft, but in this postseason, he has been difficult to ignore. His production seemed to plateau during the regular season, when his scoring, assists, rebounding and shooting averages all decreased slightly. In the playoffs, though, he has been the Sixers' best player at times. He has supplanted backup guard Lou Williams as Philadelphia's leading scorer, and he posted three straight games with at least 17 points and six assists in the opening-round series against the Chicago Bulls.
Then there is this: Holiday has committed 12 turnovers in the entire playoffs. As a comparison, Rondo, quite a good point guard himself, committed that many in his last two games entering Monday.
Out of a draft that produced more heralded point guards such as Ricky Rubio, Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson and Brandon Jennings, emerging talents like Jeff Teague and a Rookie of the Year in Tyreke Evans (who has now shifted to small forward), Holiday is the only one still playing in the 2012 playoffs.
When Derrick Rose went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, a quick glance across the East revealed that the Celtics would have the matchup advantage at point guard for as long as they stayed alive in the playoffs. Their advantage still stands, but if Holiday continues to play at this rate, their advantage may not be as wide as it was assumed.