Call it the flagrant-1 heard around Philadelphia. With 7.1 seconds left in Sunday’s game, James Harden was whistled for an offensive foul on a drive to the paint. Harden was looking for contact and thought he was fouled on the play.
Two made free throws would have tied the game up at 90-90 and likely forced overtime between the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors. Instead, the call went the other way after a lengthy booth review. The referees determined that Harden’s elbow clipped Chris Boucher in the face.
The Raptor forward went crashing down to the floor in pain. And Harden picked up a flagrant-1 foul. The Sixers lost 93-88. After the game, no one was really complaining about the call on the court. Not even Harden.
“They said it was obvious, but you know me, I don’t know another way to go up,” Harden said. “It is what is, but for me personally, I gotta play better.”
“I thought it was an offensive foul,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “They sold out and came to try and get the ball out of his hands so give them credit.”
Harden endured an up-and-down night where he shot 5-of-12 from the field with six uncharacteristic turnovers. The 10-time All-Star still finished with an otherwise nice stat line: 17 points, 8 assists, 9 rebounds. But it was the controversial foul call in the waning seconds that had everybody talking.
“I thought I saw his elbow hit his face,” Tyrese Maxey said. “I don’t think it was intentional, I don’t know, but I guess that’s the rule.”
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Raptors Throw Out ‘Junk Lineup’ vs. Philly
The Raptors have built an entire roster filled with tweeners, big-bodied guys who can shoot and dribble. It has been a remarkable rebuild for a Toronto team just three years removed from winning an NBA championship.
On Sunday, head coach Nick Nurse stuck the screws to the Sixers with a “junk lineup” that featured four centers on the court at the same time. It flummoxed the Sixers.
“Yeah, I mean they do a good job of doing what they do,” Georges Niang said. “I think if we can continue to grow and trust in each other and continue to make plays for one another, whatever junk lineup they throw, I think it was like four centers at one time, you know what I mean, it shouldn’t bother us but like I’ve said before in interviews, you know we are still growing, we are still working.”
Guys like Precious Achiuwa (6-foot-8), Pascal Siakam (6-foot-8), Chris Boucher (6-foot-9), and Khem Birch (6-foot-9) proved to be a matchup nightmare. They also put Scottie Barnes (6-foot-7) on James Harden (6-foot-5) for long stretches. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers had been worried about that scenario 90 minutes prior to tip-off.
“They search for matchups and they’re going to find one every night,” Rivers said, “and you know that, and you have to adjust to that.”
Next Up: Sixers Host Miami Heat
The Sixers have no time to sit around and feel sorry for themselves. The team returns to the scene of the crime, at Wells Fargo Center, on Monday night (March 21) to face the top-seeded Miami Heat (47-24). This will be the fourth and final contest between the two Eastern Conference rivals, with Miami leading the season series 2-1. The Sixers (43-27) hold down the No. 3 seed.
“We gotta be better, that’s it,” Harden said after the loss to Toronto. “It’s pretty simple and I will be, there’s no thought into it, be better, move on next game.”
The Heat have already ruled two players out: guard Gabe Vincent (toe), guard Victor Oladipo (back). The early injury report lists forwards Jimmy Butler (ankle) and Caleb Martin (knee) as questionable. Meanwhile, the Sixers have nobody listed out or questionable. That means Joel Embiid is good to go despite getting kicked in the teeth against Toronto.