RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — With one big block, Dario Saric gave a glimpse of what the 76ers can’t wait to see in Philadelphia.
And he showed why Croatia believes in its chances to reach the quarterfinals in these Olympics.
Saric swatted away Pau Gasol’s shot just before the buzzer, preserving Croatia’s 72-70 upset of Spain on Sunday night in a men’s basketball game.
The former lottery pick had a rough offensive game and banged his leg on a pick in the final minute, but kept fighting through his struggles to make the biggest play of the Olympics thus far.
“This last play from Saric, that’s a picture of our team,” Croatia captain Roko Ukic said.
The 76ers sure loved it, tweeting a picture of the final play on their official Twitter account.
They’ve been waiting to get the No. 12 pick in the 2014 draft on their team ever since acquiring his draft rights from Orlando, but Saric had continued playing professionally in Turkey until signing a contract with the 76ers last month.
That has brought even more attention to the 22-year-old forward.
“He’s like the next big thing in Croatia. That’s not easy,” Ukic said.
“It’s not easy to play the game, first time in the Olympic games, and things didn’t go well him offensively. But, like, effort he made, and saved the day with his last block, that shows character.”
Saric finished with just five points on 1-for-7 shooting, and limped to the sideline with 12.8 seconds left after he banged his leg on a pick that freed up Nikola Mirotic for a 3-pointer that cut it to 71-70. But Saric came back onto the court after the timeout and made one free throw after his fouled, then shook off whatever pain was left in the leg to turn away Gasol’s shot.
“Anybody can make that block and it was, I don’t know, my situation and I did it,” said Saric, who the Sixers list as 6-foot-10.
The 76ers have endured three straight miserable seasons while they broke down their roster and angled for the draft lottery. They hope it will start paying off with the young players that has given them, such as No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, the former No. 3 selection who hasn’t played yet because of injuries.
Saric looks like he would fit in nicely with them.
“Today he didn’t make some shots but he played a great game,” said Mirotic, who plays for the Chicago Bulls. “I think that right now he’s an NBA player, it’s good for him. I’m sure that he’s going to do great there.”
Croatia didn’t even earn a place in the Olympics until last month, knocking off Greece and then outlasting host Italy in overtime to win a qualifying tournament. Saric was the tournament MVP after averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds.
He couldn’t deliver that kind of scoring Sunday, but finished with seven rebounds and five assists to go with his block.
And there’s more to Saric than his stats.
“He has no fear of anything,” Croatia coach Aleksandar Petrovic said.