BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Philadelphia 76ers All-Star guard James Harden was ejected from the Game 3 win over the Brooklyn Nets Thursday night after hitting Royce O'Neale below the belt as he was driving to the basket. The officials gave Harden a flagrant 2 foul, which is an automatic ejection, forcing the Sixers guard to head back to the locker room at the end of the third quarter.
The play occurred when Harden was trying to drive past O'Neale, and extended his arm out to create some space. However, in doing so Harden hit O'Neale in the groin area and the officials first called a charge then after reviewing it gave him a flagrant 2.
Here's how the play broke down:
Harden and the rest of the Sixers were stunned at the call, especially after earlier in the game Joel Embiid was only in the groin area as he was laying on the ground. It also doesn't help that up to that point in the game, Harden had been Philadelphia's most productive player, putting up 21 points on 8 of 15 from the field.
"Unacceptable flagrant 2," Harden said after the game. "The first time I've been ejected. I'm not labeled as a dirty player. 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. You've seen it around the league, things that are much more worse than what that play was — honestly I don't think that was a foul. That's unacceptable. That can't happen."
Referee Tony Brothers told a pool reporter after the game that Harden was ejected because the "point of contact directly to the groin" was characterized as excessive.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers didn't agree with the call, or the flagrant 1 on Embiid, but acknowledged that it was out of his hands.
"I was surprised by James," Rivers said. "But listen, they looked at it, they made the call. You just have to live with it. The officials are trying to get it right, too. They have those three plus people in Secaucus. And they saw enough — I still, I haven't really seen it, not that one. That was the one, maybe I shouldn't have looked. That was the one I looked up at, and I didn't think, you know, I didn't think — I told Tony [Brothers], like, come on. I was surprised by it. But it is what it is. And clearly they saw enough. They have 1,000 angles that we don't have and you just gotta live with it."