NEW YORK — Doc Rivers has had a major voice in the NBA for quite some time. The 76ers coach is a lifer who isn’t afraid to speak out about what he sees as an injustice. He’s also savvy enough to navigate any scenario with charm and, when needed, critically.
On Friday, the topic Rivers dwelt on was officiating. Rivers addressed Joel Embiid’s Flag 1 foul, an infraction he received for retaliating against Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton. Rivers also called James Harden’s flagrant foul 2, which resulted in his ejection, a joke.
READ MORE: Sixers star James Harden calls Flagrant 2 foul and Game 3 ejection ‘unacceptable’
Both players will be available for Saturday’s Game 4 at Barclays Center as the Sixers look to complete the sweep. The NBA decided not to seek further action against Embiid or Harden, a move that followed the NBA’s decision to suspend Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green for stepping on Sacramento Kings Domantas center’s chest. Sabonis.
“I didn’t think Draymond should have been suspended, and I think the league is setting a very dangerous precedent right now,” said Rivers, who spent 37 combined seasons in the NBA as a player and coach. “It’s not me campaigning, and I’m very serious. And I said that a bit yesterday. I would like to say it louder. But if we’re going to start punishing retaliation and not the instigators, then we have a problem in this league.
It was clear the Nets’ tactic was to play with Embiid, and Rivers worries that teams are targeting better players with the instigation of getting them kicked out. He thinks that’s what happened to Green in the Warriors’ loss to the Kings.
“Draymond Green stepped on a guy’s chest because he was holding his foot,” Rivers said. “The instigator was holding his foot.”
Rivers even called Nets coach Jacque Vaughn, whom he coached with the Orlando Magic. Vaughn said Embiid should have been sent off for kicking Claxton in the groin area early in Game 3.
“As a coach, and I love Jacque, but I can’t believe we have coaches campaigning for guys not to play,” Rivers said. “It’s crazy for me. I’ve been a player, and it’s a league of players and I’m a 100% professional player. I think players should be playing in games.
“We talk all year about the fans not being happy with the guys playing, and now we’re taking the guys out of the playoffs.”
Claxton started the incident after dunking Embiid just 2 minutes and 26 seconds into the game. The Nets center knocked an off-balance Embiid onto the court during play, then Claxton stood over him. Embiid responded with a kick that seemed to miss its target.
“If I was in a park…and you were watching me, we’re going to have a problem,” Rivers said. “I didn’t grow up in the days of sticks and stones. I grew up during the Break The Bones era, so it’s a bit different. That said, these guys know they can do it because they most likely know there’s nothing you can do.
“I mean, I’m not going after Claxton. But I don’t think in a park he stands above Joel. But when you have the referee and everyone there, you know nothing is going to happen.
READ MORE: After nearly crashing out of Game 3, Joel Embiid has chance to learn from win
As for Harden, the coach said he still hasn’t seen a foul on the play.
But the point guard received flagrant 2 and headed for the locker room early after elbowing Brooklyn Nets swingman Royce O’Neale in the groin area with 13.6 seconds left in the third quarter.
Harden was initially called for an offensive foul, but the offense was improved after officials reviewed the play.
“The problem I have with James being kicked out, there were three officials and at least one to two guys in Secaucus (NJ, at the NBA Replay Center), and that’s what they found,” said said Rivers. “I just can’t understand that one.”
READ MORE: Sixers vs Brooklyn Nets Game 3 takeaway: Tyrese Maxey is special; The nets are desperate; The Sixers are resilient
Rivers acknowledged that Embiid’s Flagrant 1 could have gone either way. However, he believes Embiid kicked him in the leg, not the groin. The coach said he did not know the target Embiid was aiming for.
“But don’t pass me,” he said. “It’s like we have these unwritten rules in hockey… We have to create some in our league, and one of them is that you don’t straddle the guy and stand over them . You just don’t do all of that.