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Doc Rivers talks instigators, retaliators, flagrants, ejections, & the ‘breaking bones’ era

Doc Rivers did not hold back when speaking with reporters on Friday ahead of a Game 4 after being asked if Joel Embiid might be suspended.

NBA Playoffs: Philadelphia 76ers vs Brooklyn Nets Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last night in Brooklyn the Philadelphia 76ers came away with a 102-97 win over an overmatched Nets squad. Tyrese Maxey was your huckleberry once again these playoffs.

Brooklyn, clearly following their head coach Jacque Vaughn’s constant refrains to make this as much of a “grimey” prize “fight” in an “octagon,” seeking to make sure they don’t get “knocked out” has been doing their best to send Joel Embiid to the wood, early and often. On top of that, it seems they would’t mind if Joel got himself ejected, seeking to taunt him at times.

Nic Claxton, who has been one of the heaviest hitters, has taken repeated low back blows into Embiid, the second one of which came during Game 3, sending Joel limping off to the locker room for treatment. And that came after this incident, where Claxton stepped over Joel and successfully baited the presumptive MVP into throwing an up kick:

The kick did not really land at Claxton’s privates, (I’d say he got him in the thigh pretty lightly) but the mere act of swinging the leg was certainly worthy of ejection.

The Sixers should have absolutely been more prepared for the Nets’ transparent desperation antics coming into that ballgame. The officials should have been as well.

Every key player had every reason imaginable to know what was coming:

But Claxton was hit with a tech for taunting (then later ejected when he did it some more) and Embiid was assessed with just a Flagrant 1, being permitted to continue...leaving everyone to compare it to the stomp that got Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green ejected and suspended.

Later in the game, it seems the league went for a clear “makeup” ejection, sending James Harden packing for this standard push off, later claiming it was directed at Royce O’Neal’s groin.

But you be the judge where the blow lands or if it was worthy of ejection in a playoff game:

Clearly, an out of sorts officiating crew, spearheaded by Tony Brothers, needed some assistance from Secaucus or something. If you have cameras everywhere and you’re bothering to stop a game to review a play, how can you still get it so absurdly wrong?

According to Rich Hofmann of The Athletic on Twitter, Doc Rivers was asked if he felt Joel Embiid would be suspended for Game 4.

We have since learned that Embiid and Harden will not be suspended, and apparently no Nets players will be either.

But before we learned as much, the future Hall of Fame coach, now in his 24th year, gave a lengthy answer.

Per Hofmann, here’s Rivers perspective on everything that’s going on, in his own team’s series and around the NBA:

“You know listen, I’m going to say this, probably shouldn’t. I didn’t think Draymond should have gotten suspended, and I think the league is setting up a very dangerous precedent right now. And this is not me campaigning, I’m dead serious. I said it kind of yesterday before, I wish I had said it louder: but if we’re going to start punishing the retaliators and not the instigators, then we got a problem in this league.

As a coach, and I love Jacque, but I can’t believe we have coaches campaigning for guys not playing. That’s just nuts to me. I’ve been a player and this is a player’s league, and I am 100 percent pro-player. I think players should play in games. We talk all year about fans being unhappy about guys playing and now we’re taking guys out of the playoffs. I don’t believe in the past stuff either. They take away all your techs at the end of the season and you start over, then you should start over with that stuff too. Joe [Dumars] was saying with Draymond, the past. No, you should have done something then. This is now.

But on top of that, Draymond Green stepped on a guy’s chest because he was holding his foot. The instigator was holding his foot. If I was at a park, and I’m gonna make this point, and you stood over me, we’re gonna have a problem. I didn’t grow up in the sticks and stones era, I grew up in the breaking bones era. So it’s a little different. But these guys they know they can do it because they know you can most likely you can’t do anything. I’m not picking on Claxton, but I don’t think in a park, you’re standing over Joel. But when you got the refs, and everybody else there, you know nothing’s going to happen. This is what I’m concerned by: teams targeting the better players with instigation to get them thrown out, and the better player has to be above and can’t retaliate.”

And so that’s the only thing I’m concerned with. The Joel thing will take care of itself. We got to be better too, like we knew coming into the game they were going to be more physical, and we got to handle that better as a group.

The James thing as a joke. It’s funny, I hadn’t seen it clear enough until late last night about two in the morning when I’m watching film. And the first thing with James, I’m still looking for the foul. To be thrown out, that’s… the problem I have with James being thrown out, there were three officials, and at least one or two guys in Secaucus. And that’s what they came up with? I just can’t understand that one. Joel’s could have went either way now that I watched it, it really could have. I think he kicked him in the leg by accident but I don’t know if that’s where he was targeting or not. But don’t stand over me. We have these unwritten rules in hockey, where if you do something, it’s almost like you’re allowed to do things in hockey. Well, we need to create something in our league. And one of them is you don’t straddle a guy and stand over them. You just don’t do that.

Having said all that, let’s get back to basketball. And we’ve got to be ready, we definitely have to be ready and handle that stuff better as a group. And we just have to know, Joel is probably the main guy — it was all game if you watch. They were bumping him, they were hitting him, they were holding him. And it was allowed. And so the lesser guys never get that treatment, no one‘s doing that to them. And so we’re asking our stars to turn their heads a whole bunch more than they can at times. So it’s a tough one for the league, I think they’re in a tough spot, but I do think if you start, if you’re going to suspend Draymond, you should suspend the other guy too. You created it, you go too. So if you want to do that, you’re putting yourself in a chance that if the guy does respond, that you may go too.”

So there you have it. I’ll leave you with my own opinions.

  1. I like Doc standing up for his guys.
  2. Embiid probably did deserve to be ejected, he could have just got up and jawed with Clax for the ole double-techs and still proved his point. Hopefully this reminds him to keep his cool when guys inevitably test him again, seeing as it basically worked.
  3. The ejection against James Harden was so laughably bad it deserves further investigation, scrutiny, etc. Harden has had the worst whistle this series. How can this happen?
  4. Vaughn’s repeated metaphor’s invoking violence, coupled with the Nets taking all of these hard fouls against the league’s best regular season player deserves a least a little league scrutiny. More on that theme here. Eventually, if this continues unchecked, Embiid will have to check out of a game for more treatment. He’s not listed on the Friday evening injury report, woo hoo.
  5. I don’t agree with Doc that Draymond Green should not have been suspended. Green had already wrestled his leg free of Domas Sabonis’ grip when he then crouched down to load some power into that stomp. Even Dillon Brooks once found a clean way to escape Khris Middleton’s leg-lock. You can ask “where was he supposed to put his foot” all you want, but Steph Curry and Klay Thompson would have found better ways to handle that same situation and we all know it.
  6. I’m totally good with the NBA looking at a player’s past in these decisions. If Grayson Allen takes yet another player out, it would be gross oversight to ignore his dirty-play history.
  7. I don’t love Doc calling Claxton basically a fake tough guy, suggesting he wouldn’t have done what he did in the streets or playground. Clax has taken multiple hard, violent shots on your guy. If anything, you could be giving Clax more of the same motivation already coming from his own head coach to step up his fouls and taunting and show you he means business, etc.
  8. Picturing Allen Iverson and Doc’s long time assistant Tyronn Lue hearing a Sixers coach say you shouldn’t step over anyone is funny.
  9. The most important point that Rivers could have hammered a little harder is that the Nets have successfully limited Embiid physically, with blow after blow. The officials have not done enough to discourage Brooklyn in that regard and the rest of his speech arguably distracts from that bigger point.
  10. Joel throwing that leg kick makes me wonder just how much the Sixers coaching staff impressed upon him that this stuff might be coming before tip. If Brothers ejected Jo, and the Nets won, this is all anyone would be discussing, how they were so unprepared for shenanigans, lacked poise, etc.
  11. My buddy is texting me as I type this that Doc should start Dewayne Dedmon, Danuel House Jr. and Montrezl Harrell in Game 4 just to “set the tone on Mikal Bridges like they have on Jo.” That’s where it’s gotten to.

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