ATLANTA — After the Philadelphia 76ers‘ 104-99 Game 6 win Friday to tie up their second round series with the Atlanta Hawks 3-3, Joel Embiid was so fed up with how he viewed the officiating for him compared to the Hawks’ superstar leader, he didn’t even want to say Trae Young‘s name.
“I just felt like it wasn’t called both ways, especially because of the minimal contact that they get on the point guard and when it comes to us, we don’t get the same thing,” Embiid said after Philadelphia came back from down 12 in the first quarter to win. “So, I just want it called both ways. If you’re going to call something like nothing on their point guard, it should be the same way and call the same thing [for] me when I get — if I get — touched.”
Embiid only ended up taking one less free throw than Young — going 3-for-4 to Young’s 3-for-5 — and the Sixers took 23 freebies as a team to Atlanta’s 24, but Embiid believed his fourth-quarter run in with the Hawks’ John Collins was not judged fairly by the referees.
With 4:03 remaining in the fourth and Philadelphia leading 92-85, Embiid rebounded a Seth Curry miss and scored on a putback, striking Collins with his forearm in the process.
While the pair of big men were on the ground, Collins pushed Embiid, and the two went chest to chest once they got up, careening towards the stanchion, with players from both teams joined the fray.
There could have been some lingering tension between the two stemming from a third quarter alley-oop that Collins threw down on the Sixers’ center, when Embiid was called for a foul, even though Collins made contact with Embiid’s face on the way up.
In their later skirmish, Embiid was called for an offensive foul and Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers challenged the ruling. After an official’s review, the offensive foul stood and both Embiid and Collins were assessed a technical foul.
Embiid believed that Young, who he said was pushing him from behind, should have been punished as well if the refs were going to dole out techs.
“I got a tech for it and I didn’t think it was an offensive foul,” Embiid said after finishing with 22 points and 13 rebounds. “I was just trying to stay calm and have my hands up. And someone was pushing me from the back and I don’t understand why I got a tech.
“But I guess it is what it is. I was hacked all night and I don’t think I was on the free throw line until I got to the fourth quarter and all that stuff. So it was questionable but we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
Indeed, no Sixers starter — Embiid included — attempted a single free throw through the first three quarters. In the final frame, however, the Sixers went 15-for-20 from the line, compared to the Hawks’ 6-for-12 showing.
Philadelphia went 7-for-8 from the charity stripe in the final 30 seconds to keep the win in hand.
Some of the referees’ whistles against Philadelphia might have aided the Sixers in a roundabout way. When both Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris picked up two fouls apiece in the early going, Rivers inserted Tyrese Maxey in the lineup and the rookie delivered, jumping at the opportunity and finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds.
And Harris, after going 0-for-2 in the four minutes he played in the first quarter before being pulled because of the two fouls, got it going the rest of the way, scoring 24 points on 9-for-18 shooting over the final three quarters.
“When Tobias got the two early fouls, and in some ways it may have helped, because then he came back in and he was really fresh,” Rivers said.
Hawks center Clint Capela, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, spoke to the challenge of contending with the MVP runner-up in Embiid.
“We have to keep our composure,” he said. “I have to keep my composure when I guard Embiid. I know he’ll make tough shots. I know he’s great at what he does. Every time I have to focus on the next action and for my part, make his job as hard as I can. I know he’ll make some tough shots. That’s OK.
“Just go the other way and try to put my teammates in a good position to make shots. Just make sure every possession we don’t give anything or we give hard, contested shots over and over again.”