Phoenix Suns in Trouble? Dario Saric’s Injury is Starting to Hurt

Phoenix Suns, Dario Saric (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Dario Saric (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

When Phoenix Suns backup big-man Dario Saric stumbled to the sideline grasping his knee just a few minutes into the NBA Finals, it felt like a notable blow, but not one likely to cause too much trouble. After all…the Suns won that game, as well as the following one with convincing efforts, jumping out to a 2-0 series lead on the Milwaukee Bucks.

But during Game 3, their sewed up wounds began to leak. With roughly seven minutes to play during the second quarter, Monty Williams signaled over at his starting center Deandre Ayton. He delivered the news all young players hate to hear, asking the former Arizona Wildcat to hit the bench and briefly rest up, likely for a final push before halftime.

Although Ayton currently averages 16.7 points and 13.0 rebounds per game this series, Williams turned to Frank Kaminsky, who recently stepped into the understudy position behind Ayton with Saric unable to play. It went down as a colossal mistake, as the Bucks proceeded to abuse Kaminsky as a defender, outscoring the Suns 11-4 during the three-minute stretch and inflating their lead to 50-42.

Ayton eventually checked back in, but he picked up two quick fouls, bringing his total up to three, and consequently handcuffing himself back to the bench for the foreseeable future. Scott Foster seemed up to his old tricks once again. At the same time, Milwaukee built on their run, closing out the half with a daunting 60-45 lead.

Ayton’s hot start made his third foul all that much more heartbreaking for the Suns. Prior to the whistle, Ayton lead Phoenix with 16 points and five rebounds, while shooting 7-9 from the field.

Although Cameron Johnson provided a brief spark to start the third period with a vicious slam dunk over PJ Tucker, the Bucks quickly put the contest to rest. Ayton played only four minutes during the entire second half, bringing his total up to 24 minutes, an amount far below his 35.8 minutes per game postseason average. With Williams worried that he might pick up a fourth personal, just one away from fouling out, he kept Ayton sidelined, and the Bucks took advantage.

The Suns stayed with Kaminsky going forward, but also played some small ball featuring Torrey Craig and Abdel Nader. They all struggled. The Bucks pummelled the Suns inside, scoring 54 points in the paint and earning a +11 rebounding differential.

With Ayton unavailable, it finally became clear how badly the Suns need the guy who normally comes in for him, the Croatian killer…Dario Saric.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with 41 points and 13 rebounds going up mainly against Kaminsky, Craig, and Nader, averages 25.2 points per game with Saric as his defender. Although those numbers do not exactly exhibit much defensive prowess for Saric, they certainly stand far better than the 34.3 point per game average he continues to enjoy this series.

Additionally, Saric worked as a starter during Phoenix’s last preseason game vs the Bucks. Utilizing his size to defend both Antetokounmpo and the savvy Brook Lopez, coach Williams’s decision to insert him into the starting lineup last time out against Milwaukee furthermore illustrates his specific value regarding this series.

Saric finished with just two points, struggling to find his jump shot, but impacted the game exponentially as a defender, earning Phoenix’s highest defensive rating between that game and their other one against the Bucks this year at 66.7.

No matter what way you look at it, Saric’s absence hits as an incredibly tough loss for the Suns to proceed forward with. He truly embodies a perfect tool for the Suns to wield against the Bucks, submittable in several situations, including one in which Ayton falls into foul trouble.

Those still criticizing the Suns for their apparently easy path through this year’s postseason might want to pay attention. Although losing Saric in no way compares to losing a James Harden, Kyrie Irving, or Kawhi Leonard, it still brings about some clear, and unfair hardship for the Suns, which we saw come into fruition during their 100-120 loss in Game 3.

Next. Phoenix Suns Player Grades So Far Through NBA Finals. dark

We cannot magically heal Saric’s ACL. But at the very least, let this acknowledgement put some respect on his name. He means a great deal to the Suns, and they need him now more than ever.