What’s behind the sudden spike in 2 blatant fouls in the first week of the NBA Playoffs?
Official decisions took center stage this week, beginning with Monday’s sacking of Draymond Green for a flagrant 2-foul after he stepped on Sacramento Kings center Domantas Sabonis, resulting in a one-game suspension for Green. The decision left the Golden State Warriors shorthanded for Game 3 on Thursday.
Then on Thursday, the Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden became the second star to be sent to the shower early when he was called out to a flagrant 2 for dribbling Brooklyn Nets wing Royce O’Neale in with the other hand hit the groin. Previously, teammate Joel Embiid was only called out for a flagrant 1 – which does not result in an ejection – when he kicked Nets center Nic Claxton off the floor.
Typically flagrant 2 fouls are rare. Only 14 of them were called up during the entire 2022-23 NBA regular season, or an average of one every 88 games. Having two of them in the first 17 games of the playoffs inevitably sets the contrast.
While it’s common for the game to get more physical in the postseason, we don’t typically see as many blatant 2 fouls called in the playoffs. All of last year’s postseason saw three blatant twos — one of which was committed by Green against the Memphis Grizzlies. And we’ve already made the total of two flagrant 2s from the 2020 and 2021 playoffs, beating the one called out in 2019.
The NBA rule book defines flagrant 1 fouls as “unnecessary” contact with an opponent, while the more punitive flagrant 2 call requires that contact be both “unnecessary and excessive.”
Several criteria are offered to distinguish between these categories or fouls that are not conspicuous. Referees are asked to consider the following:
The severity of the contact
Whether or not the player made a legitimate basketball game
When windup and follow-through accompany the contact
risk of injury
severity of the injury
Whether the contact led to an altercation
James Harden retired to shoot Royce O’Neale below the belt
James Harden is penalized for a flagrant 2 foul and he is thrown out of Game 3 against the Nets for hitting Royce O’Neale in the groin.
Certainly, neither Green nor Embiid made a basketball game, making the severity of the contact and the injury the major factors separating their names. Sabonis was ruled questionable for Game 3 with a sternum bruise that the Kings specifically suffered in the fourth quarter — when the Green Stampf occurred — before finally playing. Claxton was apparently unharmed by Embiid’s kick.
Although Harden’s glaring event occurred in the midst of normal game action, the umpires apparently determined that his hand hitting O’Neale below the belt was more of a non-basketball game than an accidental part of using his offhand to protect the ball.
Embiid kicks Claxton off the ground as he is being stepped over
Joel Embiid is scored a blatant 1 after kicking Nic Claxton after a powerful alley-oop flush.
When asked on the TNT broadcast of the game whether contact with the groin automatically results in a blatant 2, Monty McCutchen, the NBA’s senior vice president of referee development, replied, “No. We have several things we are looking at. It’s not an automatic [call], because you may have contact there by chance. But if you have significant contact, if you see it’s having a real impact on the groin, we want to make sure we’re protecting players.
Any potential blatant foul play is subject to replay, but unlike other decisions decided at the NBA Replay Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, the decision on blatant fouls and altercations is made by the on-field referees with the replay center” plays a supporting role.”
The league office will have the final say on a possible further discipline for Embiid and Harden. It’s worth noting that NBA executive vice president and head of basketball operations Joe Dumars told ESPN that both Green’s track record as a “repeat offender” and his commitment to the Sacramento Kings viewers after the game were factors in the decision to pick him for to sit out a game. Both should not come into play for Embiid and Harden.
However, if the 76ers play well into the playoffs, the NBA’s blatant foul stacking rules could come into play. Players will be automatically banned for a game if they achieve a total of four flagrant points, with one flagrant counting as one point and two flagrant counting as two points. Unless the call is subsequently downgraded, Harden — like Green — is already halfway to a suspension.
The last player to be suspended for obvious fouls in the playoffs was Green during the 2016 NBA Finals, when his absence in Game 5 helped the Cleveland Cavaliers come back from a 3-1 deficit in the series to play the to beat warriors.