The Suns defeated the Bucks on Tuesday night to take a 1-0 lead in the 2021 NBA Finals, but they also lost a key member of their frontcourt rotation.
Phoenix announced Wednesday afternoon that backup forward Dario Saric has suffered a torn ACL in his right knee and will be out indefinitely. The 27-year-old’s right knee appeared to buckle after he landed on a jump stop while driving to the basket against Milwaukee center Brook Lopez in the first quarter of Game 1. Saric logged only two minutes before limping off the court and being helped back to the Suns’ locker room.
In addition to sitting out the rest of the NBA Finals, Saric will likely miss most (if not all) of the 2021-22 season as he recovers from the injury. During his Wednesday media availability, Suns coach Monty Williams told reporters that it was a “shock” to see Saric exit the series opener so abruptly.
“It’s just one of those situations that literally breaks your heart,” Williams said. “Dario is a guy that I’ve been with twice. I coached him in Philly, and to get a chance to be with him here, he’s what Suns basketball is about. Hard worker, unbelievable guy and he was so looking forward to playing in these Finals. And to play a few minutes and have that kind of injury, it was a tough thing to hear this morning when I talked to the staff and they told me what was going on.
“I spoke with him and obviously he was shocked and just felt pretty bad. So I just told the team today to check on him and [Saric’s longtime partner] Karla. He’s got a road ahead of him, but he’s a diligent worker and we know he’ll be back and better. But it was a shock to see him go down like that.”
Phoenix star Devin Booker, who had 27 points and six assists in Game 1, said it “hurt our whole group” to know Saric would be out.
“Dario is our guy. He’s our energy in the locker room that you guys don’t get to see, but we love him and we are here with him,” Booker said. “Obviously an unfortunate turn of events, but we’re going to reach out to him, we’re going to make sure he’s mentally right and that he’s in the right spirit and we’re on the road to recovery.
“As far as the court goes, obviously we’re going to be missing his presence and the things that he does out there, but everybody is going to have to give a little bit more.”
Saric came into the NBA Finals averaging 4.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in 11.1 minutes per game in the playoffs. While his numbers weren’t eye-popping, Saric’s ability to spread the floor as a big man (47.7 percent from the field, 44.4 percent from 3-point range) allowed the Suns to have both shooting and size on the floor and provided Williams more lineup flexibility.
When asked how he will fill those minutes, Williams suggested Torrey Craig, Frank Kaminsky and Abdel Nader as possible Saric replacements.
“We’re just going to try to make those decisions on the fly. But those three guys come to mind,” Williams said. “And then you just have to figure it out with your coverages. That’s the biggest thing, is trying to figure out the coverages for those guys, because when you go small ball with a guy like Torrey or [Nader], it’s trying to teach those guys a coverage when they’re guarding a five that dives. That’s not something that those guys are used to.
“And then the offensive package can change a bit. Those guys are so used to playing three, four. Now you got to put them in an environment where they’re playing the five, speaking of Torrey and [Nader].”
Of those three options, Craig seems to be the top candidate to see an increase in playing time. He is averaging 4.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game in the playoffs and has appeared in every postseason contest.