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Knicks call Embiid’s flagrant on Robinson ‘dirty’

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PHILADELPHIA — The New York Knicks took exception to the flagrant foul Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid committed on Knicks center Mitchell Robinson in the first quarter of Philadelphia’s 125-114 Game 3 victory, calling it “dirty” and saying Robinson was fortunate to avoid serious injury on the play.

“It was dirty,” Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo said. “It was dirty.”

“I mean, we’re just happy Mitch didn’t get a serious injury on that,” Knicks forward Josh Hart added. “I’m all for tough fouls, tough playoff fouls, but that’s something that can put a guy out for a significant amount of time. So we’re lucky he didn’t get seriously hurt during that time.”

The play came with 4:34 in the first quarter, when Embiid fell to the ground trying to draw an offensive foul — which wasn’t called — and then he grabbed at Robinson’s right leg as he landed on the ground nearby.

Robinson, who was questionable coming into the game with left ankle injury management — the same ankle he had surgery on earlier this season — fell to the ground. As the game went on his movement steadily got worse, to the point where he eventually was ruled out after halftime with a left ankle sprain.

The play was reviewed to see if it would be a Flagrant 1 or a Flagrant 2. If it was deemed the latter, Embiid would have been ejected from the game. Ultimately, though, crew chief Zach Zarba ruled it a Flagrant 1 and said in a pool report after the game that there was a unanimous ruling among the three officials doing the game — Zarba, James Williams and Kevin Cutler — plus the replay center, that it should be a Flagrant 1.

“In that situation, the crew gets together, we go and review the foul. In this instance, the crew was unanimous along with the replay center official in Secaucus that this foul was unnecessary but did not rise to the level of a flagrant 2,” Zarba said. “The unnecessary contact rose to the level of a flagrant 1 but we were unanimous that this did not rise to the level of excessive contact, unnecessary and excessive, which would have been a flagrant 2 ejection. That’s why we kept it a flagrant 1.”

Embiid, in explaining his side of the story after the game, said as he was laying on the ground he began to think back to when Jonathan Kuminga fell on him in San Francisco back on Jan. 30, when Embiid suffered a meniscus injury that required surgery that kept him out for two months.

“Obviously Mitchell Robinson jumping and trying to land, trying to make sure he doesn’t land on me because obviously we know the history that I have with Kuminga landing on my knee,” Embiid said. “So I kind of had some flashbacks, when he came down to it.

“It was unfortunate. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody. I just … in those situations I gotta protect myself, because I’ve been in way too many situations where I’m always the recipient of the bad end of it. So yeah, it was unfortunate, but physical game. They want to bring the physicality. We can be physical too, and we are. So it goes both ways. I get bumped all over the place, and I just keep playing and I’m not going to take it. I gotta keep my mind and make sure that I don’t get outside myself. But yeah, I just gotta keep being myself, being aggressive and physical.”

That wasn’t the only controversial play involving Embiid in the first quarter, as he picked up an offensive foul after coming together with Isaiah Hartenstein a couple minutes earlier and catching him with a knee to the midsection.

Hartenstein didn’t take much of an issue with the call, which was reviewed and called an offensive foul, and said the biggest problem was being caught with something on Embiid’s knee brace.

“It’s more of there was something in his knee — his brace or something that was sharp mostly,” Hartenstein said. “I don’t think he did anything crazy flagrant. It was just something that was in his knee brace that kind of chipped me. At the end of the day, I didn’t think it was that flagrant.”

For his part, Embiid said he wasn’t sure why the call was changed from a technical to an offensive foul upon review.

“I just think the game being physical, you look at the first replay, where I get bumped and I use a swim move to not get hit, and then I got an offensive foul and then that gets checked … I never seen it, where you call an offensive foul after checking it on the monitor, if you didn’t call it on the on the actual play,” Embiid said. “That was the first for me.”

As for the Knicks, they now are uncertain about Robinson’s status moving forward in the series — a potential issue given he and Hartenstein are trying to slow down Embiid, who finished with a playoff career-high 50 points.

“It’s always difficult when he’s out,” Hartenstein said of Robinson, who didn’t speak to reporters. “I think together we’re probably the best center duo in the league right now. So when he’s out it’s a little frustrating, especially because I was in foul trouble. So I think Precious [Achiuwa] came in and did a good job. We just have to do a better job and be more physical.”

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