NEW YORK -- Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden repeatedly said it was "unacceptable" that he was called for a flagrant foul 2 on Brooklyn Nets forward Royce O'Neale and ejected late in the third quarter of Philadelphia's 102-97 victory in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series Thursday night, one of several hotly contested moments involving the referees throughout the game.


"Unacceptable," Harden said in the locker room afterward. "Unacceptable flagrant 2. First time I've been ejected. I'm not labeled as a dirty player, and I didn't hit him in a private area. If somebody is draped on you like that defensively, that's a natural basketball reaction. I didn't hit him hard enough for him to fall down like that. But for a flagrant 2, it's unacceptable. This is a playoff game. We've seen around the league, things are much worse than what that play was. Honestly, I didn't think it was a foul on me. But that's unacceptable. It can't happen."

 

Asked whether he received an explanation from the officials, Harden said he did not, and then went on to explain why he didn't believe it was even an offensive foul -- let alone one that rose to the level of a flagrant 2, and with it an ejection.

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"I didn't think it was a foul on me," Harden said. "Somebody is draped on me, your natural reaction is to use your off arm to get him off a little bit, and that was it. There was no windup, elbow, I didn't hit him in the private area, none of that."

The officials, however, disagreed. Monty McCutchen, the NBA's senior vice president of referee development and training, said in an in-game interview on TNT that the officials determined it was "excessive and unnecessary" contact to the groin.


After the game, crew chief Tony Brothers reiterated that stance in a pool report.

"Based on the point of contact directly to the groin, it rose to the level of excessive and ejection," Brothers said.

Before his ejection, Harden was playing his best basketball of the series thus far. He finished the game with 21 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 29 minutes, and was Philadelphia's most consistent offensive performer when he was on the court. In particular, Harden succeeded in his forays to the rim, going 5-for-8 on 2-point shots after going a combined 2-for-13 on those attempts during the first two games of the series.

The decision on the Harden play was magnified by the ruling on a play involving the 76ers' other superstar, Joel Embiid, less than three minutes into the game. After Embiid was fouled by Nets center Nic Claxton and fell to the ground, Claxton stepped over Embiid and stared him down.

Embiid responded by kicking up at Claxton's midsection, appearing to catch him on the back of the leg.

After a lengthy review, Embiid received a flagrant foul 1 and remained in the game, while Claxton was hit with a technical.

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