With the Sixers searching for their first road win of the season, they needed somebody to step up.
Joel Embiid is playing at an MVP level and Robert Covington has been steady but both Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz have been up and down. Even the normally-reliable JJ Redick is in a shooting slump.
Then there’s Dario Saric. In his brief NBA career, Saric has been plagued by slow starts, but not quite as bad as this.
After having a strong sophomore campaign, Saric has started off this season ice cold. He was shooting 34 percent from the field. He elevated his three-point shooting to an elite level at 39 percent last season but had hit on only 23 percent from downtown.
Then it all clicked in the Sixers’ first road win of the season, a 100-94 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday (see observations). Saric scored a season-high 18 points on 6 of 13 from the field and 4 of 6 from three. When Saric is playing at this level, the Sixers are a tough team to beat.
“He opens up everything,” Joel Embiid told reporters. “Now we have another scorer that’s able to get his own buckets. I hope he keeps going but we’ve been supporting him and I’m glad he finally showed up.”
Of course, the stellar second-half defense and taking care of the basketball were huge factors in the Sixers’ win. But it’s easy to forget just how good Saric was last year.
After a strong regular season, Saric was excellent in the playoffs — especially in Games 4 and 5 against Boston. No, he’s not the third star the Sixers are looking for, but he’s a player they desperately need to play well.
As Embiid mentioned, the Sixers need shot creators. Saric is able to score on all three levels with his ability to hit threes, score in the mid-range and in the post. He’s also an underrated passer and tough rebounder.
A lot has been made of Saric’s play with the national team in Croatia and it’s surely a contributing factor to his slow starts. Saric has never really taken any time to rest during his NBA career. In his first three seasons with the Sixers, he’s played 180 out of a possible 185 games (including playoffs) and followed each campaign with a summer of international play.
Resting Saric was never an option for Brett Brown, though he did have newcomer Mike Muscala close out two straight games in place of Saric. With Muscala out, Wilson Chandler still on a minutes restriction while nursing a sore hamstring and Amir Johnson struggling early, Brown needed Saric to step up.
And he did. Saric spent time at his customary four spot but had two separate stints in each half at the five. He logged 36 minutes Wednesday, his highest total since the fourth game of the season in Detroit.
“I thought, in general, he was excellent,” Brett Brown said. “He made shots, he made some tremendous reads on passing from high-low to Joel. I thought that his floor game along with his shooting was as good as it’s been all year.”
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