Game Preview | Saric, McConnell Provide Valued Parallel Personalities
CAMDEN, NJ - Over the course of a long season, very rarely is the journey linear. Various hurdles and obstacles are bound to pop up along the way.
The 76ers, heading into Tuesday’s tilt against the Sacramento Kings (7:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network), find themselves in the midst of a challenging stretch. Between injuries and a continuously difficult schedule ranked second-hardest in the NBA by ESPN.com, the club has been battling to get back on track.
With momentum being such a fickle thing, coaches tend to place a premium on consistency; constructive consistency, for that matter. That’s why Brett Brown holds Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell in such high regard.
Sure, the two trusters of the friendship have some games that, statistically speaking, hold up better than others, or are more directly tied to winning outcomes.
But through everything, Saric and McConnell share a knack for being able to lift the Sixers’ spirits through comparably “big personalities,” according to Brown. They’re undoubtedly gritty, blue collar, physical, fearless, competitive, and plenty other adjectives of similar ilk.
“They wear their hearts on their sleeves,” Brown said Monday in Chicago. “I like what they bring to the table from a teammate standpoint.”
Along those lines, Brown also likes that on just about an everyday basis, he knows what he’ll be getting from Saric and McConnell when they walk through the door, whether at a practice, shootaround, game, or on a team bus or plane.
Brown believes this mutual quality translates to the court.
“I haven’t seen many consistent players who are moody people - I don’t think those dots connect,” Brown said.
The latest example of how the Sixers’ benefited from Saric’s and McConnell’s steadiness surfaced Monday, in a back-and-forth bout with the Bulls. Together, the pair helped build the backbone of a 16-2 third-quarter run that transformed a 12-point deficit into a 2-point lead.
Saric and McConnell were also on the floor in the fourth period, as the Sixers manufactured a 13-2 spurt that nudged them in front by nine points with five and a half minutes to go.
Saric was especially big in the latter stages of Monday’s game, a 117-115 loss, tallying the Sixers’ final 10 points of the evening, and keeping his club within striking distance, even as Chicago conjured up a near-unconscious scoring tear during the final five minutes.
Saric left the Windy City with a season-best 27 points, to go with 8 rebounds and a plus-3 rating. McConnell, meanwhile, logged big minutes (31), en route to finishing with a stellar line of 11 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, and a plus-6 rating.
“They’re tough,” said Ben Simmons, who Monday produced 19 points (9-18 fg), 11 rebounds, and 9 assists. “Dario is a tough player, same as T.J. They definitely get their moments, and I think they bring a lot of energy.”
As seriously as Saric and McConnell take their respective jobs, they seem to also have a sense of when it’s appropriate - and necessary - to have a little fun. Maybe it’s Saric endearingly strutting into a locker room, chest out, confidently singing the chorus of throwback pop song (Monday, it was “Jenny from the Block”). In other instances, it could be McConnell making a wry, sarcastic wisecrack that leaves teammates and coaches smiling.
The duo, collectively and separately, have a personal touch. They can be as humorous and mischievous as they are business-like.
During a winding, demanding, at times pressure-packed campaign, having players around like that makes a difference.
“I’m the guy who likes to make jokes with the players,” Saric said recently, “because this is a really hard marathon. Sometimes we need to put our minds out of everything, sometimes we need to be really friends, and that’s the only way how to move forward.”
In the end, though, between the lines, the mindset for the Croatian, and his pal from Pittsburgh, revolves first and foremost around doing whatever it takes to position the Sixers for success.
“I try to play tough every game,” said Saric. “Sometimes you can score, sometimes you can miss. Sometimes, that’s about the day, but you always can play hard and play physical. That’s it.”
With Saric and McConnell, that’s something the Sixers, regardless of circumstance, have learned they can count on.
The Sacramento Kings (9-20) will begin the back-end of a four-game road trip Tuesday. So far, they’ve dropped the first two games of the trek, at Minnesota Thursday, and at Toronto Sunday. 2016 sixth-overall pick Buddy Hield ranks second on the team in scoring, at 15.3 points per game. He’s hit 53 3-pointers this season, and is seventh overall in the league with a 46.1 perimeter shooting percentage.
• Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app
• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network