NEW ORLEANS — This series was supposed to be about the Portland Trail Blazers‘ dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Instead Chris Ivory Jersey , it has been a referendum on the best guard on the court — New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday — whose relentless defensive pressure and unstoppable drives into the lane have earned New Orleans a commanding 2-0 advantage with Game 3 of the best-of-seven Western Conference playoff series set for Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center.

“I may be a little bit biased, but if you can tell me a better two-way player in the league right now … I’m willing to listen,” New Orleans head coach Alvin Gentry said after Holiday scored a playoff career-high 33 points and had nine assists in a 111-102 victory in Portland on Tuesday night.
In the Pelicans’ first two victories, Holiday has made 24 field goals while helping to hold down Lillard and McCollum to a combined 29 baskets. He made three crucial defensive stops in the final minute of a 97-95 series-opening victory on Saturday and has been particularly tough on Lillard, who has struggled with his shot.
“I worked hard for this, honestly, all season long when nobody is looking,” said Holiday, whose first three seasons in New Orleans had been dogged by a series of leg injuries and also by the scary surgery for the removal of a benign brain tumor endured by his wife Lauren in 2016. “Just to be able to go out there and play again is a blessing. I’ve been battling injuries and to be out there and to play, that’s what I train for. … I feel like I’m in a really good place right now.”
Holiday missed 107 games in his first three seasons with the Pelicans, but this season he has played in 81 games and regained the form that made him an All-Star with the Philadelphia 76ers. He made 14 of 24 field goals attempts on Tuesday night.
“I think once I surpassed everything with my family and made sure they were OK, things were definitely put into perspective,” Holiday said. “My family’s most important to me.”
Gentry said he was cautioning his players not to assume the playoff series was over despite having won the first two on the road.
“We got two wins,” Gentry said. “We’ve still got to get two more wins, so we’re not overly excited about anything. … We’ve done an exceptional job on those two guards, and you never know when they’re just going to go off Dwight Clark Jersey , and so we’re not celebrating anything.”
Lillard pointed the blame at himself for the Blazers’ first two losses.
“A little bit frustrated,” Lillard said. “Just expecting more out of myself. Coming into the playoffs, you know teams are going to lock in and they’re going to try to make the game hard for you. I give a lot of credit to them for executing their game plan. … But I’ve just got to be better. It’s as simple as that.”
NBA.com reported that Holiday has guarded Lillard for 74 possessions in the first two games, about half the time Lillard has been on the court, and Lillard has scored just seven points on 2-of-18 shooting. Holiday has been the primary defender on McCollum for 35 possessions, and he’s scored just 11 points on 4 of 10 shooting.
“I think you’re starting to see how good (Holiday) truly is on both ends of the floor,” McCollum said. “He’s got good pace, he’s got good patience in pick-and-rolls, and I think they have a good defensive team overall. He’s a good player and he’s playing extremely well.”
The Blazers also are battling injuries. Guard Evan Turner sustained a bruised right toe while colliding with E’Twaun Moore and played less than five minutes in the second half. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a left leg bruise in the third quarter after colliding with Anthony Davis and did not return.
Pelicans forward Niko Mirotic tweaked his ankle in the fourth quarter on Tuesday but remained in the game.
“It’s a position that we didn’t want to be in,” Lillard said, “especially when you start on your home court. But we’re competitors. As a competitor, the challenge should be fun. You don’t want to be in this position … but it should be fun and we should accept that challenge. If not, then it could be a quick series.”
The Buffalo Bills were so dull during their lean years, comedian Nick Bakay feared his body would fuse to the couch while watching them play. ”It’s an incredibly disturbing image,” Bakay said of wasting away Sundays witnessing his hometown team sleepwalk through one loss after another during a 17-season playoff drought that ended last year.
”I never missed a Bills game. But I was always slumped on my couch. I was never sitting forward. I was never jumping to my feet,” said Bakay Tedy Bruschi Jersey , who wrote ”Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and its sequel, and produced and appeared on the TV sitcom ”King of Queens.” ”You sit on your couch, and your couch slowly eats you.”
No different for fans of Buffalo’s other pro sports franchise, the NHL’s Sabres, who finished last for the third time in five years and extended their franchise-worst playoff drought to a seventh season.
In a shot-and-a-beer town where the winters are interminably long, Buffalo sports fans ride things out on the notion of renewal always being just around the corner.
And there’s a new, palpable optimism for this hearty fan base, thanks to a three-day stretch which showed potential to alter the trajectory of both teams.
First, the Bills made a pair of splashes in the first round of the NFL draft on April 26 by trading up to select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen and Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.
Two days later, the Sabres won the NHL draft lottery – something Buffalo lost the previous two times it finished last – and the opportunity to select projected No. 1 pick, Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.
During the NFL draft, CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor got dirty looks from his wife during a rare dinner date sneaking peeks at the Bills’ picks. He then yelped with excitement upon learning the Sabres won the lottery while attending the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington.
”I had just resigned myself to never winning it,” Glor said. ”But listen, I always have hope.”
In Buffalo, there’s a fine line between affection and affliction for hope.
”I always try to keep it in check a little bit,” said Glor Vontae Davis Jersey , who grew up in the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda.
”Unfortunately, you get conditioned to where there are times you can be defeatist. And you try not to be. But you just don’t give up.”
Fans have little choice but to persevere in a place where nickname-worthy moments are tied to losses.
For the Bills, it’s ”Wide Right,” after kicker Scott Norwood missed a last-second field-goal attempt in a 20-19 loss to the New York Giants in the 1991 Super Bowl – the first of four consecutive Super Bowl losses.
For the Sabres, it’s ”No Goal,” following a 2-1, triple-overtime loss to Dallas in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final. Brett Hull’s Cup-clinching goal stood even though replays showed his skate in the crease.
Those were the so-called glory days.
The Bills and Sabres have won five playoff games combined since 2008. By comparison, the NHL’s expansion Vegas Golden Knights have already won eight in their first year of existence.
Buffalo joins Nashville, Tennessee, and Charlotte, North Carolina, as the only North American markets with two or more major pro teams to not have won a title.
”I think it builds character in a way. I joke with my friends that one day my kids will have to go through therapy because we are Sabres, Bills and Mets fans,” said former VH1-cable TV chief Tom Calderone, who’s from Long Island, New York Andre Tippett Jersey , but got his broadcasting start in Buffalo and maintains a home in the city. ”It’s easy to be a Cowboys fan or a Patriots fan. But it takes true dedication to be a Bills or Sabres fan.”
Calderone sees more hope reflected in signs of resurgence for the city itself.
The former site of the Erie Canal has been transformed from vacant gravel lots to parkland, a water park that doubles as an ice rink in winter, and an entertainment/hockey complex built by Bills and Sabres owner Terry Pegula.
Housing prices have tripled and a medical corridor is newly bustling along Main Street, where shuttered and boarded-up buildings have been renovated or replaced by new steel and glass structures.
Buffalo still has its rust-belt blemishes as one of the nation’s poorest cities. Racial inequities, failing schools and a crumbling infrastructure remain issues.
The Bills and Sabres aren’t immune to troubling headlines. Last week, the two teams’ president Russ Brandon resigned amid allegations of having inappropriate relationships with female employees.
Buffalo might never regain the industrial-age prominence it held in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the city became a Great Lakes shipping hub as the gateway to the Erie Canal.
Nor, however, should it become the punchline comedian Jon Stewart once delivered during a stop in Buffalo, calling the city the gateway to the Ontario border town of Fort Erie just across the Niagara River – population 30,000.
Watching a documentary on former Bills running back O.J. Simpson, Bakay was reminded of the gloomy times in the 1970s when the steel mills began closing and legions of people left to find jobs.
”It depressed me so much,” he said. ”Every shot of Buffalo looked like a moose that farted into the sky.”
The decline led to Buffalo investing its psyche into its sports teams as a way of remaining part of the national conversation.
”Our teams were the only way we could punch back and say, `Yeah, we Authentic Womens Jalyn Holmes Jersey