NEW ORLEANS --Point guard Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans wasn't worried about executing plays, or making shots, but his wind was of some concern.
Without the benefit of a training camp and with only one practice with his team, Holiday, the former 76ers all-star, made a triumphant return in a sparkling season debut during Friday's 113-101 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Smoothie King Center.
Holiday missed the Pelicans preseason and their first 12 regular season games while caring for his wife after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor while pregnant with the couple's first child.
While rust would have been expected, Holiday seamlessly came off the bench to contribute 21 points and seven assists in 24 minutes as the Pelicans won for just the third time in 13 games.
"The part I was really worried about was conditioning," Holiday said. "I thought I was behind but maybe I was just excited for the game so I felt like I could play forever."
Some of that energy has to be saved since the Pelicans have a home back to back, hosting Charlotte on Saturday.
Lauren Holiday, a former U.S. national team soccer star, gave birth to the couple's first child Jrue Tyler in September. The next month she had surgery to remove her brain tumor.
Jrue Holiday felt this was the appropriate time to return. He had been in North Carolina where his wife was treated for her medical condition. While he was there, the Pelicans sent staff members to help him out with his conditioning and grasping the offense. Holiday felt this first game was a payback to all those who stood behind him during a most difficult time.
"Just like them coming down to help me get in shape and run through the plays and kind of battle with me through a time with my family , it was even better I could come out here and perform and show them I am all about the team and all for them," he said.
This performance came against one of the NBA's best backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McColum (who shot a combined 15 for 42). Pelicans all-star forward Anthony Davis says he wasn't surprised in the least the way Holiday played.
"No, Jrue comes in and is aggressive," Davis said. "He is an all-star in my eyes and one of the top point guards in the league and it showed tonight."
Holiday's return seemed to energize the entire team.
"Jrue played great tonight," said Langston Galloway, the former St. Joseph's star who had five points in nearly 20 minutes off the bench. "I think for Jrue it is only up from here."
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry didn't want to play Holiday too many minutes, but...
"He said he felt great so we tried to keep it at minimum minutes as we possible coach but we needed him to win the game and he wanted to be there."
The 26-year-old Holiday, who averaged 13.4 points and 5.8 assists in his four seasons with the Sixers, was touched by the fans' reaction. As soon as he entered the game, they were yelling "Jrue, Jrue."
"It felt good and feels so good to be back," he said. "I was really anxious and the support from the fans and this organization has been great, but now I can give my skills and talents back to the city and to the team and it's been awesome."
Then without hesitating, he immediately looked ahead. "I had a great first game," he said. "Hopefully I can continue doing that."