Basketball can be a finesse game, one with ooh-and-ahh-inspiring dunks and three-point shots that put highlight reels on repeat.
Dario Saric is ready to abandon that style for a gritty approach he believes can turn around the Sixers’ skid.
“We need to come on the court and play dirty, play tough,” Saric said. “Sometimes it’s maybe not fancy, maybe it’s not looking good. We need to just come and maybe have the right play, tough play.”
After jumping out to a hot start this season, the Sixers have lost eight of their last nine games. They dropped to 14-17 after giving up a 22-point third-quarter lead in a 114-109 loss to the Raptors (see observations). DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 45 points.
The Sixers were shorthanded without starters Joel Embiid (back tightness) and JJ Redick (right hamstring tightness), but once again failed to hold on to a second-half advantage. They did the same at nearly the same point in the third quarter against the Kings on Tuesday.
“I think they jumped us,” Brett Brown said. “They just crawled into us. It wasn’t like they double-teamed Ben (Simmons) or they blitzed pick-and-rolls. They got physical.”
The same type of physicality Saric was calling for after the loss. The Raptors committed to playing the Sixers in the second half with the same toughness the Sixers exhibited in the first. They stifled the Sixers with a 14-0 run and erased the 22-point differential while knocking down 5 of 8 threes during that stretch.
“We just were a lot more aggressive, making everything tough for them,” DeRozan said. “We didn’t want them to get any open shots, no feel-good shots, nothing easy going to the basket. We made everything hard.”
The Sixers, on the other hand, made the game easier for the Raptors by basically handing out free points. The Raptors scored 32 points off 35 free throw attempts (DeRozan shot 13 of 15) and another 32 points off 24 turnovers. Eleven of the Raptors’ 34 points in the third came from the six Sixers’ errors.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to fix it,” Brown said of turnovers. “I’m the head coach. It is on me and it keeps us up late at night.”
While Brown points to himself on turnovers, Saric sees the Sixers’ recent struggles as a task for the entire team. After all, the competition doesn’t lighten up because of a depleted roster. The Sixers face the Raptors again on Saturday before playing the above-.500 Knicks, Trail Blazers, Nuggets as well as the upset-capable Suns on the road.
“It’s on us as players to fix it,” Saric said. “Coach has tried to help us every day to be ready.”
Maybe more grit can turn things around. Maybe extra fight for, say, rebounds and loose balls can spark a win. Maybe Saric's call for this approach will boost the Sixers out of this slump. And if it does, "ugly" basketball won't look so bad after all.
“If it’s the ugly play, sometimes I think if we start to do things like that, we can be so much better,” Saric said.