01 May

Mitchell Robinson leaves 76ers’ Game 3 win in walking boot

No NBA team has ever overcome a 3-0 playoff deficit to win a series, and Joel Embiid seemingly came into Game 2 against the New York Knicks knowing that. A home loss would have dropped his Philadelphia 76ers into a 3-0 deficit, and Embiid posted a new career playoff high 50 points in Philadelphia’s Game 3 win over New York to ensure that wouldn’t happen. Embiid’s performance was incredible, but it also came with several controversial moments in the first half.

In the first half, Embiid committed three notable fouls. Two of them were committed in the same general region against different Knicks. In the first quarter, Embiid was assessed an offensive foul for seemingly hitting Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein in the groin. In the second quarter, on a shot attempt, Embiid swung his leg upward unnecessarily and hit New York’s other center, Mitchell Robinson, in the groin as well.

Third controversial Embiid play of the night pic.twitter.com/vyYv01Q8h6

— Sam Quinn (@SamQuinnCBS) April 26, 2024
Those plays, however, paled in comparison to another foul Embiid committed against Robinson. In the first quarter, Embiid got knocked to the ground by OG Anunoby near the basket. Anunoby passed the ball to Robinson, but Embiid, from the ground, grabbed Robinson’s leg and pulled him down to ground as well. He was assessed only a flagrant-1 foul for the play.

Should Joel Embiid have been ejected for this?

pic.twitter.com/BE4T27I0cE

— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) April 26, 2024
After the game, Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo called the play “dirty.” Other teammates called it out, too.

Donte DiVincenzo called Joel Embiid’s Flagrant 1 on Mitchell Robinson a ‘dirty’ play. Isaiah Hartenstein said it ‘wasn’t a basketball play.’ Josh Hart said it was a reckless play and Knicks were fortunate that Robinson avoided a severe ankle injury.

— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) April 26, 2024
Embiid, meanwhile, said he was trying to protect himself.

“It’s unfortunate,” Embiid said. “I didn’t mean to hurt anybody. In those situations I gotta protect myself because I’ve been in way too many situations where I’m the recipient of the bad end of it. It was unfortunate.”

The NBA’s official rulebook determines that a flagrant foul penalty 2, which triggers an automatic ejection, is to be called “if contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary and excessive.” Obviously, this is a subjective definition. However, pulling a player’s foot from the ground while he’s attempting to jump not only seems excessively dangerous, but it is hardly a basketball play.

Zach Zarba, the referee’s crew chief on Thursday night, commented to a pool reporter after the game about the decision of calling the foul a flagrant 1 instead of a flagrant 2.

“In this instance, the crew was unanimous along with the replay center official in Secaucus that this foul was unnecessary but did not rise to the level of a flagrant 2,” Zarba said. “He unnecessary contact rose to the level of a flagrant 1 but we were unanimous that this did not rise to the level of excessive contact, unnecessary and excessive, which would have been a flagrant 2 ejection. That’s why we kept it a flagrant 1.”

Robinson played through pain in the first half, but had a visible limp at points. He attempted to warm up to start the second half, but started the second half in the locker room and was eventually ruled out due to a left ankle injury. It is unclear what an impact the Embiid play had on him, as he was already listed as questionable due to an ankle injury entering Game 3, but it obviously did not help. Robinson left the arena in a walking boot after the game.

Asked about the flagrant foul after the game, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau responded “which one?”

Tom Thibodeau on the flagrant foul called on Joel Embiid:

“Which one? The one they called, or the one they didn’t call? Just want to make sure we have clarity on that.” pic.twitter.com/qlrkqYDWar

— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) April 26, 2024
Whether a foul is dirty or simply part of the physical nature of the game is ultimately subjective. But Embiid — who, per ESPN, is dealing with a mild case of Bell’s palsy — got caught in that gray area three times in the first half alone. If nothing else, he dialed up the intensity in an already chippy series to an 11. Embiid and the Sixers will attempt to tie the series at 2-2 on Sunday, and when this series does shift back to New York for Game 5, Embiid can expect a very cold welcome.

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