NEW YORK — Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden was ejected late in the third quarter of Philadelphia’s 102-97 Game 3 win Thursday night in the first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets for a flagrant foul 2 against Nets forward Royce O’Neale.

Harden was whistled for an offensive foul against O’Neale after being isolated against him on the perimeter with 13.6 seconds to go in the quarter. After replays showed Harden hitting O’Neale in the midsection and a lengthy review, he was assessed a flagrant foul 2 by crew chief Tony Brothers and automatically ejected.

“[The contact] was to the groin, and as such [the referees] made the decision that it was both excessive and unnecessary, which is the definition of a flagrant foul penalty two,” Monty McCutchen, the NBA’s senior vice president of referee development, said in an in-game interview on TNT.

Asked whether a shot to the groin automatically means the call should be a flagrant 2, McCutchen said, “No. We have several things we look at. It’s not an automatic, because you can have incidental contact there. But when you have significant contact, when you see that it has real impact to the groin, we want to make sure we are protecting players.”

When he was ejected, Harden was playing his best game of the series so far. He finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 29 minutes, and after going a combined 2-for-13 on 2-point shots through the first two games of the series, had gone 5-for-8 in Game 3 as Philadelphia’s one consistent source of offense on the night.

The Harden play came after the opening minutes of the game featured another replay review over a flagrant foul. In that incident, Nets center Nic Claxton fouled 76ers star Joel Embiid less than three minutes into the game, and then stepped over Embiid while the superstar laid on the ground. Embiid then kicked up at Claxton’s midsection as he stood over him, causing both teams to rush together.

After a lengthy review, Embiid was issued a flagrant foul 1, while Claxton received a technical foul. The partisan crowd cheered when Harden missed the technical free throw, while Claxton then knocked down his free throw for Brooklyn.

Claxton himself was later ejected when, early in the fourth quarter, he dunked over Embiid and then stared Embiid down, prompting Brothers to run over and issue Claxton his second technical foul of the game, resulting in his automatic ejection. Embiid waved Claxton off the court following the ejection.

It was an eventful night for Embiid, and not just because of the initial flagrant foul review.

He later went to the locker room toward the end of the first quarter, and remained back there until shortly before he returned to the game early in the second quarter. Then, almost immediately upon checking back into the game, he got tangled up with Nets forward Cam Johnson under the basket, and appeared to tweak his right ankle, which he then grabbed at for a couple of trips up-and-down the court.

Embiid remained in the game, however, and helped stake Philadelphia to an 11-point halftime lead.

Then, after Brooklyn went on a 16-5 run to begin the second half to tie the game at 63, Embiid had an awkward fall while trying to defend a Johnson drive and again was limping back up the court. But, once again, he remained in the game.

The issues between Embiid and Claxton go back to the regular season, when the two big men received double technicals in Philadelphia’s win over Brooklyn in what was Ben Simmons’ one and only time playing in his former team’s home arena.

“He said something he shouldn’t have,” Embiid said of Claxton after that game, when asked what resulted in the two of them exchanging words. “That’s why when I walked up to his face, I told him to say it to my face again. That’s why he looked away and he didn’t say it again, because he knows why.”

Then, after Philadelphia’s Game 1 victory last Saturday, Nets coach Jacque Vaughn asked during his postgame press conference for more calls against Embiid in Game 2.

“Hopefully they’ll be calling traveling and defensive three seconds on the big fella next game,” Vaughn said after Game 1. “So, I look forward to that.”

Embiid then responded to Vaughn after leading Philadelphia to another win in Game 2, referring to Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse and his similar requests for calls during last year’s first round playoff series between the 76ers and Raptors.

“I saw after the game last time, they kind of took the Nick Nurse route of begging for free throws and calling out the referees,” Embiid said following Game 2. “They did come out and they got a lot of calls, which I guess it’s good for them.

“But I think we didn’t play our best basketball. But what happened in the second half was we just figured out what worked and we just kept doing it over and over and over. You know, they’re stuck to their game plan, they didn’t make any adjustments and you know, and we just figured that out and just kept playing together.”

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