Doc Rivers was trying to choose his words carefully when the 76ers coach was asked about the officiating in his team’s 104-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday in Game 6, forcing Sunday’s decisive Game 7 at the Wells Fargo Center.
Rivers was asked about a third-quarter play in which the Hawks’ John Collins caught a high alley-oop pass from Trae Young and threw down a thunderous one-handed jam.
On his follow-through, Collins hit Joel Embiid in the head, but it was the Sixers center who was called for the foul.
During Saturday’s media Zoom conference call, Rivers was asked if he considered challenging the call.
Rivers said the people who advise him on challenges suggested it wasn’t worth it. Upon looking at the replay after the game, Rivers said, “When I watched it, I was like it was pretty close, I don’t know.”
After Friday’s game, Embiid complained about the officiating,
“I just told them they have to call it both ways,” Embiid said.
Rivers responded to Embiid’s complaint.
“I don’t want to get into it. Joel brought it up and I think he’s right, I think the bigger guys, they take more liberties [against] and there are no calls,” Rivers said on Saturday.
Rivers then gave an example of the little guy, Hawks point guard Trae Young, getting away with, in his mind, fouling.
“There was a push-off in front of our bench,” Rivers said, “when Trae just pushed off Ben (Simmons), Ben barely moved, but it gave Trae the advantage and I asked the ref if that was Ben doing that to Trae, that is an offensive foul.”
Rivers then went back to talking about Embiid
“I thought [with] Joel there were several things, one layup he made that a guy undercut his body, he fell to the floor, zero [call],” Rivers said. “The bigs, I complain about this to the competition committee, it just seems like you can take liberties with them that you can’t take with the guards out on the three-point line.”
In the fourth quarter, Embiid was called for an offensive foul in the paint with 4 minutes, 3 seconds remaining when he crashed into Collins.
Both players fell to the floor, Embiid, listed at 7-foot and 280 pounds, on top of Collins. The Atlanta forward shoved Embiid and began yelling at him. The players got up and Embiid took steps toward Collins. The players had to be separated and both players received technical fouls.
On Saturday, not surprisingly, Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan took up for his player.
“You try to keep your head, but you also tell your guys we got to protect ourselves, as well,” McMillan said. “In that situation, with John, Embiid falling on his leg, it was a very similar situation that happened in Philadelphia where Embiid fell on his leg. Those are situations where guys just feel you can really injure a player. I don’t know how much Embiid weighs, but a guy like that falling on your leg, I think John responded to that, he reacted to that situation happening again.”