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April 21, 2023

Doc Rivers goes on extended rant regarding flagrant foul enforcement: 'We've got a problem in this league'

BROOKLYN — Doc Rivers delivered a rant on the NBA's rule enforcement so long and so passionate on Friday afternoon that his stream of consciousness is long enough for an article on his own. The headline — looking at Joel Embiid's flagrant one foul on Thursday night and Draymond Green's ejection from a Warriors game earlier this week, Rivers believes the instigators are getting off easy in confrontations around the league.

We are going to present you Rivers' thoughts on the topic in full here, with brief asides in order to contextualize it. The following series of quotes was prompted by a simple question from the media, with Rivers asked if he thought Embiid would be suspended for Game 4 in Brooklyn.

I’m going to say this, probably shouldn’t. I didn’t think Draymond should have gotten suspended, and I think the league is setting up a very dangerous precedent right now. This is not me campaigning, and I’m dead serious. I said it kind of yesterday before, I wish I had said it louder. If we’re going to start punishing the retaliatiors and not the instigators, then we’ve got a problem in this league.

As a coach, and I love Jacque, but I can’t believe we have coaches campaigning for guys not to play. That’s just nuts to me. Really. I’ve been a player, this is a player’s league, and I am 100 percent pro-player. I think players should play in games. We talk all year about fans not being happy about guys playing, and now we’re taking guys out of the playoffs.

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn came out after the game on Thursday night and expressed his shock at Embiid remaining in Game 3: "For a guy to intentionally kick someone in an area that none of us want to be kicked at or towards and for him to continue to play, I’ve never seen that before in a game," Vaughn said. "And a guy continues to be able to play. Intentional."

Back to Rivers. Draymond Green's recent stomp of Domantas Sabonis' chest was front of mind for Rivers after Green was suspended for a game under the pretext of Green's history of conduct. Rivers took issue with that logic.

I don’t believe in past stuff either. They take away all your techs at the end of the season, and you start over, then you should start over for that stuff too. I hear Joe [Dumars] was saying with Draymond, the past, no. You should have done something then, this is now.

But on top of that, Draymond Green stepped on a guy’s chest because he was holding his foot. Alright? The instigator was holding his foot. If I was in a park and you stood over me, we’re gonna have a problem. Now I didn’t grow up in the sticks and stones era, I grew up in the break the bones era, so it was a little different, alright? 

But having said that, these guys know they can do it, because most likely you can’t do anything. I’m not picking on Claxton, but I don’t think at a park you’re standing over Joel. But when you got the refs and everybody else there, you know nothing is going to happen.

As someone who said he probably would have reacted poorly to a guy standing over me at a pickup game, I can't argue with the logic here.

Already on a roll at this point, Rivers took aim at James Harden's noteworthy ejection from Thursday night, calling the decision a "joke" and agreeing with his star player that he did not believe a foul was called. 

The Joel thing will take care of itself. We got to be better too, we knew coming into the game they were going to be more physical, and we’ve got to handle that better as a group.

James’ thing was a joke. It’s funny, I hadn’t seen it clear enough until late last night, but I’m watching film, and the first thing with James I said is I’m still looking for the foul. To be thrown out, the problem I have with James getting thrown out, there were three officials and at least one to two guys in Secaucus, and that’s what they came up with? I just can’t understand that one.

Joel’s could have went either way now that I’ve watched it. It really could’ve. I think he kicked him in the leg actually, I don’t know if that’s where he was targeting or not, but don’t stand over me. That’s like, we have these unwritten rules in hockey where if you do something, it’s almost like you’re allowed to do things In hockey. Well, we need to create some in our league, and one of them is you don’t straddle a guy and stand over him.

Got all of that? It was just one single answer with no follow-up questions across several minutes Rivers' availability. The question is whether Rivers truly feels this passionate about it, or whether this is a campaign with knowledge of how the league might be leaning with regard to further punishment.

What Rivers did make clear is that his own team needed to handle the circumstances of the game and the series better, knowing that the Nets will do anything they can to save their season and keep the dream alive. Still, with two stars on his roster and both in at least some danger from league review at the moment, Rivers reiterated that he believes this should be a two-way street.

"We definitely have to be ready and handle that stuff better as a group. We just have to know. Joel is probably the main guy, it was all game if you watched. They were bumping him, hitting him, holding him, and it was allowed," Rivers said. "The lesser guys never get that treatment because no one is doing that to them. So we’re asking our stars to turn their heads a whole bunch more than they can at times."

As for Game 4, which will offer the Sixers a chance for their first four-game sweep in a seven-game series since 1985, Rivers was adamant that decisions from the league will not be the final say on his team's chances to win. While he is hoping for the best, he believes his team has shown they're ready for anything. 

"We’ll be ready. We’ve played games without Joel, we’ve played games with Joel," Rivers said Friday. "We’ve played games without James and with James, we come to win. Doesn’t matter who’s playing. I don’t think he’ll be suspended, but I’ve been wrong 100 times on this one. I was way wrong on the Draymond thing. We just have to be ready for whatever."

"This is part of the journey, and that’s the other part with your team. We’re on a journey, and we can’t write the script, the script is being written in real-time. We have to be able to handle it, and we have to be ready."

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