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Sixers-Bucks Recap: Milwaukee Spoils Dario Saric’s Birthday

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Sorry, Homie, but we needed this one.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

What’s incredible is how routine it all seems at this point. It’s only been 80 games, but it feels like we’ve seen this play countless times already: Dario pulls the miss off the glass, casually dribbles the ball twice, stops to crack his back and pour himself a cup of tea, only to effortlessly zip the ball forty feet down court to a streaking Richaun Holmes. With not even five seconds off the shot clock, score two for the home team.

The most impressive part of this play? Look at where every other player, save for a unrelentingly aimless Greg Monroe, is on the court when Dario pulls the trigger on that dime. There isn’t a person in the building who doesn’t see it coming — chief among them Richaun, whose eyes were locked on the Croatian rookie for the entirety of the court — yet Milwaukee’s defense looked, well, defenseless in stopping the break. A handful of basketball players in the world can make a pass that precise, and Dario looked like he could do it in his sleep.

Look, it’s easy to pile on to Malcolm Brogdon, and doing so feels especially dirty on a night where the 24 year-old freshman hadn’t a chance to suit up and defend his case. He’s certainly been a useful piece of the Bucks’ playoff puzzle this year, and his league-average PER and 5.27 win shares by RPM (leading all rookies by a country mile) aren’t nothing — even if he’s the most unexciting Rookie of the Year candidate dating back to Mike Miller.

But for how aggressively dreadful this rookie class has been, how many first-year players have transformed the way their team plays more than Joel Embiid and Dario Saric? Kyle already tackled Joel’s case earlier today, but not enough can be said for how vastly different the Sixers play when The Homie takes the floor: every miss becomes a potential fast-break, the ball doesn’t stick as long as he’s in control, and his intensity is the most contagious the Sixers have had in years. The extra minutes given to Gary Payton II to account for Brogdon’s absence surely stung for Milwaukee, but let’s be real, Jason Kidd didn’t have to re-write the playbook for this one. The beauty of Dario’s game is that it can’t be gameplanned for because he’s at his best when lacking a plan -- how many other players can you say that about?

Just ask the Sixers. The team suffered a noticeable dropoff in the second half as Dario failed to capitalize on his superb 12-5-2 (and two steals!) first half, and that’s enough to do the team in on an April night where it bricks 65 percent of its shots. Philadelphia made an honorable effort in the closing minutes, but the game was sealed once Dario met his 24-minute “guideline” for plantar fasciitis (otherwise known as “Fultzitis” at this point of the season) and had to take the pine. It’s always nice to lock up some extra lottery balls before 9:30 EST on a Saturday night, but it’s a shame to see Dario go home empty-handed on his birthday. But don’t worry, I figure he’ll have plenty of celebrating to do a couple weeks from now.

Some notes:

  • TJ McConnell’s box score stats (10-2-10, four turnovers, three steals) are nothing flashy, but I grow queasy imagining a Philadelphia offense without both he and Dario tonight. Milwaukee has done well constructing its defense around long, exceptional athletes, yet TJ managed to probe the paint countless times and kick out to an open man at the arc. The Bucks’ gamble of leaving open Sixers ultimately paid off (duh, none of them can shoot), but TJ made an art out of collapsing the defense and using the ball as a magnet in this one. In a world where the Sixers make more than a quarter of their threes, that may be the difference needed to pull off a W tonight. Pretty good for a guy who can’t shoot.
  • There was an extended stretch in each half tonight where Tiago Splitter and Greg Monroe went back and forth at each other, shouts to 2013.
  • There was also an approximately five-minute stretch in the second quarter where Spencer Hawes absolutely lit up the Sixers defense, and we will never speak of it again.
  • Alex Poythress is simply an inspiring story, considering he made it all the way to the NBA despite never making a jumper in his life.
  • Don’t worry, only two of these left. We’re almost there.