Cleveland Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff and Wednesday's officiating crew have a difference of opinion. With 4:12 left in the Cavs' eventual loss against the Philadelphia 76ers, Evan Mobley drew a charge against Sixers star Joel Embiid. It was Embiid's sixth foul. Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers challenged the call, and after a review, the referees overturned it. Cleveland trailed 108-101 when the foul was called and lost 118-109.
"He drew a hell of a charge to get Embiid his sixth foul," Bickerstaff told reporters after the 118-109 loss. "He did a hell of a job. It's clear as day that's a charge. There's no doubt about it. The call was made on the floor. He stands in between him and the basket. They lower the shoulder. I thought Evan competed, laid it all out on the line. Guys ought to be rewarded for that. If you're willing to stick your nose in there, sacrifice your body, you ought to be rewarded for the correct play."
Bickerstaff was not pleased with the officials' explanation.
"They said there wasn't enough contact to be a charge," he said. "Which, I mean, there's a 300-pound man that bowls through your chest. It's a charge, and it's that simple."
After the game, crew chief John Goble told a pool reporter, "The contact by Embiid was determined to be marginal as he did not go through the space of Mobley."
Naturally, Rivers sided with the officiating crew. "I was 100 percent sure it was another great challenge," he joked to reporters. Then he said that he "didn't know" and "it could have gone either way," adding that he "thought there was a good chance" the call would be overturned.
"I thought he flopped on the play," Rivers said. "I really didn't think that Jo would be fouled out. Jo did. That's what scared me. 'Cause he just felt like they were calling, you know. But no, I felt good about it. It's rare that I don't turn around and look at our guy. I was standing there, so I called that one right away. And we had a timeout that we were going to lose under three (minutes) anyway."
Embiid appeared to be upset with the initial call and seemed surprised when it was overturned. On the Sixers' broadcast, announcers Kate Scott and Alaa Abdelnaby were shocked by the result of the replay review. "Officially, I know longer understand the rulebook," Abdelnaby said. "I don't. I don't understand the rulebook anymore. I am all in favor of him staying, but I'm sorry, that's a push-off. And then look at Joel! Like he stole something!"
Embiid, however, told reporters that he thought all along he'd be allowed to stay in the game.
"I never extended my arm," Embiid said, via ESPN. "Right before the hit, you could see he was already starting to flop. I watch basketball every day and I was pretty confident they would call it the other way."
Before his walk-off interview with ESPN's Cassidy Hubbarth, Embiid greeted former teammate Danny Green by saying, "That's not a charge, he's flopping." Green responded, "That's a f---ing charge."
Bickerstaff did not limit his complaint to that one moment.
"I think they were able to be more physical at times, but I don't think we were able to be more physical. It was not what-for-what, and it's that simple. So there's a play, a guy spins away from the basket, not even looking at the basket, and gets a foul called for him. It's not what-for-what tonight."
The play Bickerstaff referenced also involved Embiid and Mobley. It took place in the second quarter:
Embiid, whose MVP odds are now even with Nikola Jokic's at -105, per Caesars Sportsbook finished with 36 points on 12-for-19 shooting, 18 rebounds, three assists, six turnovers, four blocks and five fouls in 38 minutes. Philadelphia has won seven of its last eight games and, at 46-22, is just one game behind the second-place Boston Celtics.
The fourth-place Cavaliers, meanwhile, are four games behind the Sixers and 2.5 games ahead of the fifth-place New York Knicks.