Philadelphia is a city that prides itself on its grit, its toughness, its ability to overcome adversity.
Dario Saric wants the Sixers to play more like the city the team calls home.
"That toughness that Philly has in the heart of the city, we need to just come on the court and play like that," he said Thursday following the Sixers' fourth consecutive loss.
The 6-foot-10 Saric is about as far from a Philly native as you can get, hailing from Sibenik, Croatia. But he is as blue-collar of a player as they come. He's consistently referred to as the workhorse of the team, the kind of player that Philadelphia fans should appreciate.
After a 114-109 loss to Toronto, in which the Sixers blew a 22-point third-quarter lead, Saric called for his team to stop trying to make the pretty play. Saric wants the Sixers to grind out wins even if it means ugly basketball.
"My point is we need to come on the court and play dirty, play tough," Saric said between sighs and looks of exasperation. "Sometimes it's maybe not fancy, maybe not looking good, but we need to have the tough play, the right play. If it's the ugly play, sometimes it's like that. I think if we start to do things like that, we can be so much better."
The highlight-reel plays, the transition three-pointers, no-look passes for dunks, those are great. Saric admits that the team has a lot of fun when they are playing like that. But with eight losses in the last nine games, Saric is right: it's time to get dirty.
With a little bit of a language barrier still working against Saric, sometimes his point doesn't come across the way he intends. So I'll translate.
When Saric says the Sixers need to start playing ugly and dirty, he isn't talking about sloppy basketball that doesn't involve moving the ball, or playing dirty in a "Malice at the Palace" sense of the phrase. He's talking about gritty, physical, aggressive basketball.
Saric said it may not be as fun for the fans to watch if the Sixers are playing the way he wants. Well, I've got news for Dario — Philly wants to see it, and they'll love it when it happens.
This is exactly the fan base that appreciates diving for loose balls, grappling for a rebound, a hard-set screen, a bucket earned by backing down an opponent, and using will and strength to get through contact.
Saric's performance against Toronto exemplified the kind of basketball he described. His 18 points were not glamorous. His 10 rebounds were earned. His nine assists were precise even when they lacked in flair. His two blocks did not bring the crowd to its feet the way a trailing Joel Embiid shutdown might have.
But it was all hard-fought.
When it was all over, he was angry. His near triple-double didn't matter because the Sixers lost.
"I think I had a pretty good game, but at the end of the day I will go to sleep and I will be sad because we didn't win this game," he said. "We need to just come on the court and play hard from the first [tip]. Even if it's ugly, we need to start to play like that."
Sixers coach Brett Brown agreed. He noted that he saw his team's physicality dwindle as the game went on and wished, like Saric, that the Sixers would have played the second half in the same manner as they played the first.
"Our third quarter again was our bad quarter, plus we had like 23 turnovers. That's on us, on the players," Saric said.
Brown also took the hit for the team's turnovers.
"I'm the head coach and it's on me, and it keeps us up late at night," he said.
The solutions to fixing the Sixers' high turnover numbers, volume of fouls, and tendency to blow leads in the second half of games most likely falls somewhere in the middle. The team is responsible for execution of the coaches' decisions.
A good place to start in turning things around is to turn the frustration and aggression into a gritty desire to win.
"We need to change the page a little bit, we need to change our game," Saric said. "We need to be mentally ready. We want to be a playoff team."