Dario Saric came into the NBA knowing his rookie season would be one of ups and downs. He would have successes based on his talent and struggle because of the newness of the league and matchups.
Saturday’s performance against the Celtics was one of those highlight nights. Saric scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, both tying career-highs, for his third double-double. He was efficient in his performance, playing 27 minutes off the bench in the Sixers' 107-106 loss.
“I thought that was his best game as a 76er,” Brett Brown said.
Saric had struggled the night before against the Magic. He barely made a dent in 16 minutes, posting just two points (1 for 5 from the field) without a single rebound. The poor showing was on his mind Saturday, as he got ready for the second game of the back-to-back. He went in early to get up extra shots, met with coaches, studied film and thought about the matchup throughout the day.
“I prepared a little bit more for this game,” Saric said. “After I have some bad rhythm of five or six, maybe, games. Now I concentrate more. I try to give my best, try to play my best, try to think before everything happens.”
Saric showed his aggressiveness in crunch time in the fourth quarter, when he scored seven points and five rebounds in eight minutes. He nailed a three to cut the Celtics' lead to 92-91 with 4:28 to play. Then with 1:09 remaining, Saric’s free throws cut the Celtics' lead to two points. On the other end of the court, he snagged the rebound off an Isaiah Thomas miss and scored a game-tying layup from Jahlil Okafor.
“He played great,” Okafor said. “He’s working hard every day, getting used to the NBA process. It was good to see hard work paying off for him.”
Saric has been adjusting to new roles throughout the season. He was thrown into the starting power forward spot when Ben Simmons was injured, and then moved to the bench when the team acquired Ersan Ilyasova. On Saturday, Brown also played Saric at small forward in Robert Covington’s (knee) absence, a shift the Sixers may try again.
“He’s a good teammate,” Brown said. “He’s biding his time. He understands he’s a rookie. Incrementally, he’ll be given these opportunities. Tonight he did and he responded and you’re seeing continued growth.”
Saric still is early in his NBA career, and Saturday's showing was a game he can look back on and study for the rest of the season.
“I feel like tonight … you’d walk away and say, ‘Shoot, that’s a hell of a player for playing 20 games in the NBA and he did what he just did against a hell of a team,’” Brown said. “I’m proud of what we saw all over the place from Dario.”