Thursday night’s game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets featured a pair of moments where the referees had to make decisions that led to some controversy. The first, in the opening few minutes of the game, saw Nets center Nic Claxton step over Sixers center Joel Embiid, which led to Embiid kicking up at Claxton and picking up a Flagrant 1. (Claxton was assessed a technical foul.)
In the aftermath of Draymond Green’s ejection and suspension for stomping on Domantas Sabonis earlier in the week, there were some questions as to why Embiid didn’t get tossed. Fast forward to the game’s third quarter and a Philly player did end up getting ejected, as the officials determined that James Harden hit Royce O’Neale below the belt while trying to push off. Harden got a Flagrant 2 and was sent to the locker room for the remainder of the game, which the Sixers would go on to win.
It was a decision that led to a whole lot of scrutiny, with Harden saying after the game that it was an “unacceptable” way to get tossed from a game. And on Friday morning’s edition of First Take, Stephen A. Smith shared Harden’s sentiment, saying it was perhaps the worst ejection he’s ever seen.
.@stephenasmith on James Harden's ejection:
"That might be the worst ejection I've ever seen in NBA history. … It's debatable if that was even a foul." pic.twitter.com/g7OXWUo2t6
— First Take (@FirstTake) April 21, 2023
“Big Perk, I completely agree with you, that might be the worst ejection I’ve ever seen in NBA history,” Smith said. “A legitimate argument can be made it wasn’t even a foul, but if you called him for the foul, ok, that’s fine, offensive foul. It’s not a Flagrant 1, it’s not even a Flagrant 1. He was trying to create some space — I’m not sure he hit him in the lower extremities, I didn’t see that.”
Smith went on to say that there’s no doubt in his mind that Embiid “should have been ejected” for his kick, but Harden’s ejection was baffling due to his belief that there might not have even been a foul. After spending some time expressing how he doesn’t like talking about officials and wondering about how Harden getting ejected is good for the product, Smith went back to talking about the foul.
“James Harden is a star in this league, he is absolutely right, he does not have a history of being a dirty player or anything like that,” Smith said. “That is a typical move that he has made throughout his career. You wanna call an offensive foul, fine, an ejection? That’s unconscionable.”