Mr. Dependable: Pacers forward Justin Holiday was one of 11 players to play in all 72 games
This season was tough on everyone. Despite a condensed schedule, heavy restrictions, and injuries ravaging the Pacers, Holiday remained the one constant.
During a season unlike any other, Justin Holiday was the one player the Pacers could always count on. Despite the unusual circumstances, more back-to-backs than in recent seasons and 250 games missed by a combined 15 players, Holiday was there. Always.
The Pacers forward played in every regular-season game this season.
“He’s super reliable,” Caris LeVert said, impressed by that fact. “I think that just speaks to him. He’s always trying to do the right thing on the court and he’s saying the right things in the locker room. He’s just one of those guys you can rely on to be in the right spot. I think that speaks to his toughness as well. This is a shortened season where not a lot guys play every game.”
Holiday was one of 11 NBA players to play in all 72, which is even more impressive now than in a typical season. He’s also the only player among the bunch that’s in his 30s.
A total of 540 players appeared in a game this season. Justin is part of the two percent.
“It’s actually something I take a lot of pride in, something I make sure I try to do,” he said after playing in all 73 games last season. “I want to make sure I’m out there every day.”
Not just this season, but every season. Holiday played in every single game over the last three seasons, and in four of the last five. The only reason he didn’t with the Bulls during the 2017-18 season is because they won 22 games, and Jim Boylen, who replaced Fred Hoiberg midseason, wanted to hold him out.
At 32 years old, Holiday is the oldest player on the roster and he embraces it. Because he wasn’t drafted and it took him five years to earn a spot in the rotation with an NBA team, he understands the value of availability.
It wasn’t until his time with the Pacers, his seventh NBA franchise, that he played consecutive seasons with the same franchise.
He was on one-year deals for his first seven seasons in the league. This past summer, he finally signed a multi-year deal. That was a focus of his, and he was a top priority of the front office. He returned to the team on a three-year deal worth $18.8 million.
“Very impressed by it and very proud of him for it,” said first-year coach Nate Bjorkgren. “He’s very tough. I’ve known Justin a long time, much before this year. I followed his playing career a long time and I always wanted to coach him.
“He’s done a great job of keeping himself ready this year. He’s really smart out there. He knows every position and where everybody needs to be at all times. He’s like another point guard out there, like another coach on the floor.”
The Pacers' iron man, Swiss Army knife or glue — however you want to refer to him — does a little bit of everything for this team. He started in 72 percent of games (52) and wants to do what’s best for the team. He didn’t complain when Bjorkgren wanted to bring him off the bench again, he was fine with it for the betterment of the team.
He goes into each game with the same energy. More injuries set in with the team and they needed him back in the starting lineup. And when all three centers were sidelined with injuries, he spent time at center.
“That’s big time,” JaKarr Sampson said of Holiday’s feat. "Old-man Jus, especially when you get his age. He does a good job taking care of his body. It’s weird because he just doesn’t get hurt. He takes care of his body and he’s just never hurt.
“He’s actually been battling a little wrist injury, but he don’t sit out. He’s a tough guy, he’s one of our locker room leaders and he’s our vet. He shows up every game and that’s impressive, for real.”
Holiday played more than 30 minutes per game, and averaged 10.5 points and 3.6 rebounds. He launched 6.3 3s per game this season and made 38.2 percent.
In their loss to the Bucks (and his other brother) last week, he made eight 3s and finished with 26 points, his highest output with the Pacers.
This season has been a mental challenge as much, if not more than physical. It’s been rough on front offices, training staffs — everyone involved on a day-to-day basis. There’s a tightened schedule, daily COVID-19 tests, restrictions on where they can go and what they can do. And practice time is down significantly.
“This year is tough,” Holiday said earlier this month. “The main thing that is hardest on me is not seeing my family as much, and that’s something I personally need and long for in getting through a season. It’s spending time with them and time away from the game. So it is hard because it’s just basketball, basketball, basketball — and I am not a person that basketball consumes my life.”
Ahead of the Pacers’ play-in game against the Hornets on Tuesday, seven Pacers are on the injury report.
But not Justin. He’ll be ready.