After three games of being thoroughly outplayed by the Boston Celtics, the 76ers had finally had enough. On the brink of playoff elimination, Dario Saric led the Sixers to their first win in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
He had yet to score more than 14 points in this series heading into Monday’s win-or-go-home Game 4. He finished the night with a game-high 25 points, helping the Sixers live to fight another day.
“We beat them, but everybody knows it’s just the first step,” Saric said after the 103-92 win. “We’ve only beat them one time, they’ve beaten us three times, so we need to be ready for the next game.”
Saric’s dominance came on a night of adjustments for the Sixers. T.J. McConnell was inserted into the starting lineup. Coach Brett Brown said that change injected energy into the game from the jump and, from a defensive standpoint, gave the Sixers the upper hand early on.
All of the superlatives used to describe McConnell, Brown said could easily be used to describe Saric.
“He was 9-for-17, eight rebounds, four assists, just solid,” the coach said. “Those types of people that care for their teammates that are proud to be a Philadelphia 76er, it means something, are priceless.”
One of the ways in which the Sixers tried to utilize Saric on Monday night was to switch so that the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum would have to guard him on the post. Exploiting what the Sixers saw as a mismatch worked in Saric’s favor.
He had one three-pointer and a couple of long twos in the game, but the majority of his points came from down low, where he also worked through contact leading to him going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.
“We felt like that was a mismatch inside, with Jayson guarding him,” Joel Embiid said. “We tried to post him as much as we could and he took advantage of it.”
Saric and the Sixers are still fighting an uphill battle that no team has ever been able to overcome — coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs. But with one win under their belts, they feel like if they take every game one possession at a time, they’ll be able to change the tide of the series.
From Embiid’s perspective, if they can continue to get Saric going, they have an even better chance.
“When we’ve got him going, and when we’ve got our shooters going, we are going to do our job and we’re going to be fine,” Embiid said. “When everybody gets going, especially Dario because he’s a big part of this team and he can really score the ball, when he can score like that the game becomes so much easier for everyone else.”
The Sixers still have to win the next three games to make it to the Eastern Conference finals. Keeping Saric involved will be a major priority when they play Game 5 in Boston on Wednesday.