Last night, two Sixers teammates made their presence known at the Olympic games. There’s been plenty of excitement surrounding the former 2014 first-round pick Dario Saric and experienced Point Guard Sergio Rodriguez..but last night they were on opposing teams in a thrilling contest. Croatia eventually went on to upset Spain, winning 72-70. But how did the Sixers players fare during their first Olympic showing?
Saric was named MVP of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament so both fans of the Sixers and the Croatia national team had very high hopes for the 22 year old. For the most part, Saric had a surprisingly quiet game. He ended with 5 points shooting 1/7 from the field, missed all four 3 point attempts and knocked down 3/6 free throws.
Where Saric showed his value however, was his ability to help his teammates. The 7 rebounds and 5 assists racked up better reflect what Saric brings to the table in Philadelphia. Some beautiful passes and great instincts really raised eyebrows and helped many see past the shooting struggles Saric faced.
Saric is not Ben Simmons. He’s not a dominant force when driving to the rim..and there were times where he was completely shut down by Spain. There were other times where Saric would be wide open in the corner and his teammates failed to recognize this, resulting in squandered opportunities.
The one thing Saric did really well that isn’t documented on the stat line, was spacing. He was able to create looks for his team by manipulating Spain’s Defense. Croatia went on a sensational run in the second half to close the deficit that the Spanish side had mounted before stepping off the gas. A three-point shootout commenced and while Saric wasn’t a key player in that aspect, he grabbed some vital boards and showed great instinct in his transitional play to help set up the Offense to score some crucial points.
Then of course, there was THAT block. With just 2.3 seconds left on the clock, Pau Gasol was left with an easy hook-shot to tie the game..until Super Dario stormed from the opposite side of the rim to send the shot backwards and secure a huge victory for Croatia.
The Homie says gimme that W. https://t.co/SbmwAbhFzg
— Philadelphia 76ers (@Sixers) August 8, 2016
The thing is, people will look at this and say Saric had an underwhelming game..but he wasn’t the guy having the Offense ran through him. That honor fell to Bogdanovic, who scored a game-high 23 points. Saric was simply a member of the supporting cast last night..but it was a role in which all things considered, he played quite well. Sure, his shooting wasn’t deadly and there were times he looked invisible..but without the second half rebounding contribution or his ability to spread the Spanish Defense to set up looks, this could have been a very different result.
He may not have started, but Sergio Scariolo chose to roll with Rodriguez over the elusive Ricky Rubio when the game was on the line. Rodriguez easily had the more impressive game, but it was to be expected. A veteran of the game and a guard with four years worth of experience in the NBA, Rodriguez was expected to help lead this Spanish team and run the floor.
Rodriguez did just that, recording a game-high 7 assists to go with 10 points (shooting 3/10 FG, 2/7 3-PT). When he entered the game, for his biggest stint it was in a time of need. Spain’s early lead had began to crumble and Croatia could feel the momentum rolling on to their side of the court.
Early in the third quarter, the presence of Rodriguez helped to push that lead back up to double digits. Some great passing work and a sense of patience when trying to find a way past Croatia’s seemingly tough exterior helped Rodriguez to get as many looks to Gasol and Mirotic as possible..something Croatia couldn’t stop at that point.
Rodriguez showed great vision in setting up some outside looks to help keep his team ahead until the dying moments. He may not have been overly dominant when it came to shooting and there were times where the veteran missed wide open looks, but the way he was able to charge inside before changing the tempo completely was great to watch.
Spain may have lost by a narrow margin in a big upset, but the presence of Rodriguez was felt heavily in the second half. Could Ricky Rubio have done better? Debatable. Should we be praising the second coming of the Spaniard as a man who has a higher upside than Rubio? Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. It’s just one game..but Rodriguez was arguably the most complete player out there..and with the Sixers signing him as someone to run the Offense, that’s the best they could have hoped for.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young