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Joel Embiid Says LeBron Should Have Gotten Ejected, Is Immediately Undermined By His Own Coach

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket over LeBron James
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty

Joel Embiid spent the aftermath of his team’s thrilling one-point win over the Lakers doing some politicking at LeBron James’s expense. But in the very same batch of post-game interviews, Sixers coach Doc Rivers compromised his star player’s argument, reminding everybody that he came up in a much different era of physical basketball than the kids do today.

In the third quarter of the eventual 107-106 Philly victory, Embiid got the ball with plenty of space inside and looked like he was going up for a slam. While mid-air, however, LeBron put both hands on Embiid’s midsection, knocking the big man off balance and onto the hardwood. The fall definitely looked painful—especially for a guy who’s been struggling with back issues—and it earned LeBron his first flagrant 1 since 2014, when he elbowed Roy Hibbert in the chin while driving to the hoop.

But following Tobias Harris’s clutch game-winner, Embiid argued that the punishment was not sufficient for the crime, and that LeBron’s status and reputation in the NBA (compared to his own) was what prevented him from catching an ejection. He was also ticked off that he got called for what he considered a weak flagrant barely a minute later.

“First of all, I mean, you look at it, that’s a very dangerous play,” Embiid said. “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.

“Those are tough plays, and I just thought, you know, it should’ve been a flagrant 2.”

The difference between a flagrant 1 or 2, for those who don’t read the TV graphic that shows up every time the topic arises, is that a 1 is “unnecessary” and a 2 is “unnecessary and excessive.” Both give the offended team two free throws and the ball, but a 2 sends the offending player into the locker room.

Obviously, those definitions leave the interpretation pretty much entirely in the hands of the officials. But from Doc Rivers’s perspective, everything that got called “flagrant” last night was just called “basketball” back when he was a player in the ’80s and ’90s.

“First of all, LeBron’s not a dirty player. It was just a physical play, and they had to call the flagrant, I guess,” Rivers said. “You know, all of the flagrants tonight … you can get a flagrant easy these days.”

Is this a highly respected coach calling his top scorer a whiny chicken? Well, no, I wouldn’t go that far, even if you want to read between the lines a little bit. But it is at least kind of striking to see Rivers not even make a token effort to be on Embiid’s side or protect the fragile all-star. And it’s worth remembering that the Clippers were undone last season partly because of chemistry issues, which Rivers certainly played a part in causing.

If you’re as desperate for some good NBA drama as I am, join me in rubbing your hands together and hoping this turns into a real fuss, perhaps even a kerfuffle! C’mon, Joel, take a veiled shot at Doc the next time there’s a mic in front of you. You know you want to.