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Recapping Dario Saric’s Performance against Lithuania in Group B Olympic Play

Dario Saric and his Croatian compadres headed into Monday’s Group B finale knowing they would either win the group or potentially go home.

With the pressure on his shoulders, Saric delivered arguably his best performance of the tournament.

Saric had 18 points, six rebounds and three assists as Croatia defeated Lithuania 90-81 Monday night to win Group B.

The Croats will play Serbia in the quarterfinals Wednesday and wouldn’t have to face the United States until the championship game. They also avoided Spain and Argentina on their side of the bracket. All four teams that advanced from Group B finished with a 3-2 mark.

Whether somebody talked to him after the Nigeria game or he decided to do it on his own, Saric’s assertiveness was at the level I was hoping it’d be in his last game. He took only five shots against Nigeria and netted just seven points, despite being matched up with a smaller defender in the post several times throughout the game.

Lesson learned.

With an overwhelmed Mindaugas Kuzminskas guarding him, Saric took over the game in the second quarter, pouring in 11 points during a six-minute span with the skinny Lithuanian failing to keep up on most of those field goals. The impressive stretch helped Croatia go in front after Lithuania led 23-15 following a quarter of play.

Saric tallied 15 of his 18 points in the second and third stanzas where Croatia outscored Lithuania 62-34 and held a commanding 75-55 advantage heading into the final frame.

That’s some clutch play in a must-win environment, finishing 7-of-12 from the field overall. Now let’s take a look at some of the clips, starting with that incredible run during the second.

Saric is a fantastic ball handler and although he’s not the most athletic, he’s very smart and uses his eyes to manipulate defenders. He lulls them to sleep by looking away, doing so here against Domantas Sabonis before quickly crossing over and getting to the rim.

Here’s Kuzminskas guarding him. Saric was easily able to obtain post position, quickly faced up and took a pair of dribbles along the baseline prior to bumping off him and converting the easy layup.

Saric secures post position on the right block again, fakes Kuzminskas out with some nifty footwork, but Sabonis provided some solid help defense on this occasion.

And more aggression from Saric, taking Kuzminskas off the dribble and drawing a foul.

Lithuania attempted to put another defender on Saric, but he got Kuzminskas again on a switch and easily backed him down for another easy two points.

Now with Valunciunas on him, Saric makes the big man defend him on the perimeter. Again he uses his eyes to lull Valunciunas to sleep before rising and knocking down the right wing 3.

Saric showcased the handles and the quick crossover again in the third quarter, easily beating his man along the right wing and laying the ball in for the bucket.

I’ve referenced Saric’s ability to grab the defensive rebound and heading the other way before, here’s another example of it. He doesn’t have the explosion like Ben Simmons does running the one-man fastbreak, but the Sixers are about to have a pair of 6’10 players who have to ability to do this. That’s scary.

Croatia has done a good job of masking Saric’s defensive inefficiencies and playing to his strengths on that end, which is his help defense and blocking shots. He really struggles with quickness, both on the perimeter and inside. We saw that here on one of the few times he got put on an island defensively. Sabonis was able to beat him with a quick shoulder shake, but was unable to convert the field goal.

Check out more of Saric’s performances in the Olympics below.

Croatia vs Brazil

Croatia vs Argentina

Croatia vs Spain

Croatia vs Nigeria

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