There are so many qualities that endear Dario Saric to Philadelphia fans.
He’s been called the workhorse of the team and lauded for the offseason improvement of his shot. Sixers coach Brett Brown has said Saric is a blue-collar player who is exactly the kind of person who should be a 76er.
Saric sacrifices his body for winning plays, beats himself up when he misses a defensive assignment, and is fiercely exuberant when he celebrates.
In addition to everything on the court, there is a quality and honesty about Saric that aren’t often seen in professional basketball.
Before Wednesday’s home game against the New York Knicks, Brown said that Saric isn’t intimidated by any of the other Eastern Conference teams.
After Saric scored a game-high 26 points to lead the Sixers to their eighth straight win, nobody would have batted an eye if he had agreed with his coach. But Saric stayed honest.
“I don’t want to play against LeBron James,” he said.
The way he said it was the way any person on the street would, as if just behind his words was the thought: I’d be crazy to want to face LeBron James.
“He’s a top-three player in the history of the NBA,” Saric added. “You play against him in the playoffs, it’s different.”
James was the only one on Saric’s do-not-play list. The rest of the East, Saric said, is “more than welcome” to come to Philadelphia and test their mettle.
“I think we can beat everybody — for sure, everybody,” he said. “Even on an away court.”
Welcome? The fans will no doubt give any opponents a warm Philadelphia welcome when they enter the Wells Fargo Center. And that’s exactly why Saric is looking forward to the playoffs and hoping for a home-court advantage. He loves hearing the fans and feeding off their energy.
“I feel the fans and I feel the atmosphere,” he said. “Everybody started playing basketball because of that feeling, not because you’ll have some car or some house or something like that.”
He had that feeling on Wednesday night.
Get you a teammate that's as hype for your dunks as Dario is for Ben.
Another look at that filthy steal and slam from Ben and Dario. pic.twitter.com/XlhhzM8hKs
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 29, 2018
With less than two minutes left in the first half, the Knicks had taken over after erasing a 16-point Sixers lead. Ben Simmons scored to take a one-point advantage but the team needed a jolt.
On the other end, an errant pass from New York’s Michael Beasley was momentarily recovered by Lance Thomas before Saric poked the ball away. As the ball rolled toward half court, Thomas and Saric sprinted toward it and both players dived, but Saric went harder.
Saric landed on his right elbow as he swatted the ball forward, directly into the hands of a fast-breaking Simmons for an easy dunk. Saric came up bleeding where his arm hit the floor, but he didn’t notice. As the fans were screaming, Saric was flexing and celebrating.
The Sixers never trailed again in the 118-101 victory.
“That play is as good as it gets if you just wanted a snapshot of how you want your team to be perceived,” Brown said. “It speaks volumes on many levels.”
In 2018, Saric is averaging 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 43.2 percent from three-point range, a huge improvement on the 31.1 percent in his rookie year.
It’s hard to imagine that Saric started out the season on the bench, playing the first five games with the reserve unit. He’s become such an integral part of the Sixers’ lethal starting five that even Brown conceded Wednesday that the team wouldn’t be nearly as good without “The Homie.”