NEW YORK — Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers gave an impassioned speech Friday in defense of Joel Embiid‘s kick at Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton, saying the NBA needs to do something about teams trying to goad star players into retaliatory actions during games.
“I’m gonna say this, and I probably shouldn’t: I didn’t think Draymond [Green] should have been suspended,” Rivers said Friday, referring to the Golden State Warriors star’s suspension for stomping on Sacramento Kings’ Domantas Sabonis. “And I think the league is setting up a very dangerous precedent right now, and this is not me campaigning, and I’m dead serious.
“… If we’re going to start punishing the retaliators, and not the instigators, then we’ve got a problem in this league.”
Embiid kicked at Claxton after the Nets center stood over him less than three minutes into Game 3, with Embiid being hit with a flagrant foul on the play and Claxton getting a technical foul for taunting his opponent.
Claxton would later get a second technical — and with it an ejection — for taunting Embiid after a dunk early in the fourth quarter.
Philadelphia’s other superstar, James Harden, was hit with a flagrant foul 2, which comes with an automatic ejection, for a hit to the groin area of Nets forward Royce O’Neale late in the third quarter.
A league spokesperson told ESPN on Friday that both Harden and Embiid’s fouls will stand as called, and that neither will receive any further discipline from the league. As a result, Harden has two flagrant foul points moving forward, and Embiid has one. When a player accumulates four flagrant foul points in the playoffs, it results in an automatic one-game suspension.
That, however, will only serve as so much of a deterrent in the eyes of Rivers, who said that players like Embiid need to be protected from being repeatedly targeted by opponents throughout games.
“I’ve been a player, and this is a player’s league, and I am 100% pro-player,” Rivers said. “I think players should play in games. We talk all year about fans not being happy about guys not playing, and now we’re taking guys out of the playoffs. I don’t believe in the past stuff either. They take away all your techs at the end of the season, right? And you start over. Then you should start over with that stuff, too. … Draymond Green stepped on a guy’s chest because he was holding his foot. The instigator was holding his foot.
“If I’m at a park, and I’m gonna make this point, and you stood over me? We’re gonna have a problem. I didn’t grow up in the sticks and stones era, I grew up in the break the bones era, so it’s a little different. Having said that, these guys know they can do it because most likely you can’t do anything. I’m not picking on Claxton, but I don’t think at a park he’s standing over Joel. But when you’ve got the ref and everybody else there, you know nothing is going to happen.”
Still, even Rivers admitted there was a potential case to be made for ejecting Embiid. Rivers was unequivocal, however, in stating he believed Harden was wronged for his flagrant 2 and ejection.
“James’ thing is a joke,” Rivers said. “… The first thing with James is, I’m still looking for a foul. To be thrown out? The problem I have with James being thrown out is there’s three officials, and at least one to two guys in Secaucus [at the NBA’s Replay Center], and that’s what they came up with? I just can’t understand that one.
“Joel’s could have went either way, now that I’ve watched it. It really could’ve. I think he kicked him in the leg, actually. I don’t know if that’s where he was targeting or not. But don’t stand over him. We have these unwritten rules in hockey. … We need to create some in our league, and one of them is you don’t straddle a guy and stand over him. You just don’t. You don’t do that.”
Rivers made it clear that for Philadelphia to do that, the 76ers are going to have to better handle Brooklyn’s physicality.
“We have to be ready,” Rivers said. “We definitely have to be ready and handle that stuff better as a group and we just have to know. Joel is probably the main guy, but it was all game if you watch it. They were bumping him, they were hitting him, they were holding him, and it was allowed. The lesser guys, they never get that. No one is doing that to them. So we’re asking our stars to turn their heads a whole bunch more than they can at times.
“So it’s a tough one for the league. I think they’re in a tough spot. But I do think if you start it and you’re going to suspend Draymond, you should suspend the other guy, too. You created it? You go, too. So if you want to do that, you’re putting yourself in a chance if the guy does respond, where you can go, too. I think we have to come up with something like that.”
Controversy aside, Philadelphia claimed a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and is in position to sweep Brooklyn out of the playoffs with another win in Game 4 on Saturday afternoon.
“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Rivers said. “We haven’t won the series, so we’ve done nothing. We’ve got to be ready to play. Nothing’s going to be easy, and it’s not going to be gifted to us.”