In the first game of the FIBA World Cup, Dario Saric scored 10 points, grabbed 9 rebounds, and dished 4 assists in an 82-78 overtime victory for Croatia over the Philippines. The game should not have been close, but a 26 point game from naturalized Filipino Andray Blatche (?!) and some key shots from the upstart Filipinos forced the game to go five extra minutes.
The timing of the game and the people in it made the game an exercise in basketball absurdity. The Croatians had about half a foot on the Filipinos at every position except at center, where Blatche is somehow on the team, and they should have creamed them. At 6:30 EDT, the game started so early only die hard Sixers fans and people who live overseas watched, but they got the most Blatche (or Baltche) performance of all time. Here's a sample of people reacting to this game:
Philippines, no longer pretending to do otherwise, have Andray Blatche run point.— Noam Schiller (@noamschiller) August 30, 2014
"Why. Why does [Blatche] settle for the midrange jump shot". Said every coach he's ever had. And these announcers.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) August 30, 2014
Blatche did a behind-the-back dribble before barreling into a Croatian player. This is A+ entertainment.— Rey-Rey (@TheNoLookPass) August 30, 2014
Okay, that's enough about Blatche, let's talk about someone more meaningful to us. Saric throughout showed off the strengths and weaknesses that make him such an intriguing prospect. He started for Croatia, hitting a nice mid range jumper (shout out Doug Collins) and a cutting layup off a dive and feed from Croatian center Ante Tomic in the early minutes, finishing the first quarter with 8 points and 5 rebounds.
He mostly disappeared for the rest of the game - part of that was the Croatian rotations. In a 45 minute game, only one Croatian (Bojan Bogdanovic, of the Brooklyn Nets) played more than 30 minutes. Additionally, Saric battled a bit of foul trouble in the second half and eventually fouled out as the primary defender of Andray Blatche, now a Filipino legend after leading a near upset.
Having watched video of Saric but never a full live game before today, Rich Hofmann's things to watch for dictated how I watched the game. Rich delivered good advice. Saric was primarily used as a secondary ball handler, the "release valve" in the pick-and-roll game, and a floor spacer.
Point forward may be a bit strong of a description for Saric right now. He puts the ball on the floor and is a nifty passer - he threw a bounce pass half the length of the floor on a fast break that was right on target to a sprinting teammate that I hope goes on YouTube so I can watch it repeatedly and maybe take it out to dinner - but he doesn't seem to have an idea of what he's going to do with the ball at all times.
His talent looked unharnessed - expectations make it easy to forget that Saric is only 20-years-old. His decision-making lags behind his passing and dribbling skills. He turned the ball over 3 times to go with his 4 assists, and it seemed like he was mostly out of control when he had the ball in his hands.
Also - Saric missed all three of his three point attempts, and that maybe took away some of his offensive options available when teams defend his shot.
Despite watching for Saric, I became a fan of the Philippines while watching the game. It was hard not to: with a bunch of guys the size of J.J. Barea surrounding Blatche, launching threes and trying really hard with a very passionate crowd entirely in their favor, you knew who the underdogs were. Given that, and given how many awful shots Blatche attempted during the game, it's a surprise they were even in the game. Croatia let them stay close, and the Filipinos nearly pulled it off.
Croatia's next game is tomorrow morning, an hour later. I can't promise more Blatche shenanigans, but Saric was fun to watch and is definitely a player to look forward to here in the future.