Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid said he believed Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James should have been assessed a flagrant foul 2 and ejected from Philadelphia’s 107-106 home victory over the defending champions Wednesday night.
“First of all, I mean, you look at it, that’s a very dangerous play,” Embiid said of James’ foul, which came at the 5:44 mark of the third quarter. “I guarantee you that if it was me, I would have probably been ejected from the game, which has happened in the past with me getting flagrant fouls really for nothing.”
While he was annoyed about James being given only a flagrant 1 — allowing James to remain in the game — Embiid was equally bothered by the fact that, 68 seconds later, he was called for a flagrant 1 himself for an elbow to Anthony Davis that Embiid didn’t believe merited that penalty.
“When you compare that to the one that I got, which I thought I didn’t really hit him, I didn’t elbow him,” said Embiid, who had 28 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocked shots in 38 minutes. “I might have touched him, but I don’t think it deserved the flagrant, if you’re gonna compare those two.
“Those are tough plays, and I just thought, you know, it should’ve been a flagrant 2.”
For his part, Sixers coach Doc Rivers, a product of a different era of the sport that featured more physical play than today’s game, said he didn’t think either play should have been called for a flagrant at all.
His only concern in the moment was that Embiid, who fell several feet onto his back and writhed on the floor in pain, was all right afterward. While Embiid wasn’t moving as well after the play, he managed to stay in the game and help the Sixers win.
“First of all, LeBron’s not a dirty player,” Rivers said. “It was just a physical play, and they had to call the flagrant, I guess.
“You know, all of the flagrants tonight … you can get a flagrant easy these days. But that fall was hard, and there was some concern there, for sure. The fact that Joel kept going, clearly he wasn’t the same after that, as far as his movement. And we kinda knew that, and we used him a lot in pick-and-rolls because of that.”
Embiid, who has been on the injury report on and off recently with a sore back that has kept him out of a game or two, said he won’t know how his back responds until after he wakes up in the morning but that he felt it limited him during the game.
He said part of Philadelphia’s collapse down the stretch — which saw the Lakers score 13 straight points to erase a 12-point Sixers lead with three minutes to go and take a 106-105 lead with 11.2 seconds remaining — was in part because of his back limiting his movement.
“It’s on me,” Embiid said of Philadelphia’s late-game slide. “I missed a couple shots. I just didn’t have the legs. Not because I was tired, which I wasn’t, but my back just didn’t allow me to dominate the way I’ve been doing in fourth quarters. I missed a couple shots, we made a couple mistakes on defense, they made a few 3s, and just like that they were up one.”
Just when it looked like the ongoing questions about the Sixers and their inability to close down the stretch would come back to haunt Philadelphia once again, they were bailed out by a terrific shot by Tobias Harris, who confidently took a pass, dribbled to the elbow against Lakers guard Alex Caruso and rose up to bury what turned out to be the winning jumper with 3.0 seconds remaining.
“I’m a person that I visualize myself in those spots, so when the opportunity came … that’s a shot I work on time and time again, but in those moments just being confident enough to let it go and being OK with the result,” Harris said. “Tonight, it fared well.”
The shot also allowed the Sixers to laugh off those late-game foibles, a stretch that nearly ruined what had been an impressive performance by the hosts over the first 45 minutes against the NBA’s defending champions, one Harris said his team viewed as a measuring stick given the opponent.
“I would say a little bit of both,” said Harris, who finished with 24 points, when asked if he would focus more on being happy he hit the winner or being frustrated at Philadelphia’s sloppy play late. “I’d say there’s always growth in everything. So tonight’s win is a great win for us against a great team, but at the same time, we know we could be better, especially in the fourth quarter.”