The Philadelphia 76ers took a 3-0 series lead against the Brooklyn Nets with a scrappy 102-97 victory at the Barclays Center, but the game was overshadowed by controversial calls by the officials.
Sixers guard James Harden was ejected from the game in the third quarter after officials adjudged that the 10-time All-Star hit Royce O’Neale in the groin while driving towards the basket.
Prior to this, Joel Embiid had avoided an ejection from the game for kicking out at Nets center Nic Claxton.
The decisions on ejections have bewildered NBA players and coaches alike with everyone now left unsure as to what constitutes a flagrant 2 foul.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Harden questioned the decision to remove him from Game 3 of the first-round playoff series, exclaiming: “I didn’t hit him in the private area.
“Somebody draped on you like that defensively, it’s just a natural basketball reaction. I didn’t hit him hard enough for him to fall down like that. For a flagrant 2, it’s unacceptable. This is a playoff game.”
Harden continued: “I don’t think that was a foul. That’s unacceptable. That can’t happen.”
Tony Brothers, the referee crew chief for the night, explained the ejection after the game: “Based on the point of contact directly to the groin, it rose to the level of excessive and ejection.”
But the confusion surrounding the officiating also extended to the respective coaches of the 76ers and the Nets.
“No, I have no idea what an ejection 2 is,” Doc Rivers, head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers admitted.
Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn shared his counterpart’s uncertainty; just days after Draymond Green was ejected for a similar play, Vaughn was not happy that Embiid stayed in the game after his clash with Claxton.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in my career before. For a guy to intentionally kick someone in an area that none of us want to be kicked at or towards, and for him to continue to play, I’ve never seen that before in a game,” Vaughn said.
Claxton was also ejected in the fourth quarter after picking up his second technical foul for taunting after a dunk on Embiid.
The Sixers took advantage of the situation and, without Harden, Tyrese Maxey took over. The 22-year-old has been brilliant all season for Philly and his impressive fourth quarter performance and team-high 25 points led the Sixers to a 3-0 series lead.
Around the NBA Playoffs
Elsewhere in the league, Devin Booker scored 45 points to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 129-124 win and a 2-1 series lead against the Kawhi Leonard-less Los Angeles Clippers at the Crypto.com Arena.
Alongside Kevin Durant’s strong all-around performance of 28 points, six rebounds and five assists, Booker torched LA throughout the game and the Clippers defense had no answers for the pair.
Despite Norm Powell’s and Russell Westbrook’s best efforts on offense, the Clippers didn’t have enough without Leonard and Paul George and now face an uphill task to make it to the second-round.
The Golden State Warriors also clawed their way back into their series to avoid an 0-3 hole against the Sacramento Kings with a 114-97 win.
Steph Curry was as irrepressible as ever and scored 36 points, including an impressive six shots from deep in the victory. Kevon Looney was also once again putting in the hard yards for Dub Nation and tallied 20 rebounds, with nine of them on the offensive glass.
The Kings will look to quickly forget about their disappointing performance with De’Aaron Fox particularly out of sorts throughout the loss.