PHILADELPHIA – The person with one of the most interesting perspectives on the Karl-Anthony Towns-Joel Embiid fight was Timberwolves forward Robert Covington.
Covington played with Embiid for parts of three seasons in Philadelphia and knows both well. What was his reaction when Towns and Embiid ended up in a headlock and on the floor before coaches and players separated them?
“Not surprised at all,” Covington said after the 76ers’ 117-95 victory. “They’d been going back and forth the whole game. They’re both physical guys.”
It was an emotional night for Covington, who was injured last season when the Wolves came to Philadelphia in January, so he played for the Philadelphia crowd for the first time since leaving, and the vibes were nothing but positive for him. They cheered him during pregame introductions.
“It’s amazing just to see the love I’ve gotten here come around tenfold,” Covington said before Wednesday’s game. “Those years, those rough years and everything, it’s a great feeling to see you’ve had a lasting effect on things and see the faces you once worked with years ago, to still show the same love. It feels great.”
Sixers coach Brett Brown said Covington’s demeanor was a welcome constant, especially during the lean years when the team was trying to rebuild.
“You walk onto a bus, into a locker room and speak to him on the phone, he doesn’t blink,” Brown said. “He’s very consistent. There’s a grounded sort of poise that he has that was comfortable, and in those rocky years that was important in the locker room.”
Even though Covington wasn’t happy when he was traded from Philadelphia to Minnesota as part of a package for Jimmy Butler, he holds no ill will toward the organization, which helped him blossom into one of the best defenders in the league.
“There was a lot of stigmas behind me coming out that people didn’t believe I could be here,” Covington said. “But I was given an opportunity, and I made the best of it.”
In a pool report after the game, referee crew chief Mark Ayotte said officials “deemed the altercation a fight” between Towns and Embiid, and therefore by rule both were ejected.
Ayotte said he saw the two lock arms but didn’t see anything else that might have led to the escalation of the fight.
On videos circulated around social media, Towns quickly thrust his right arm at Embiid, but it was difficult to distinguish whether it was a punch or whether Towns tried to put Embiid in a headlock. League officials’ interpretation of that act could have an impact on the supplemental discipline Towns could receive.
Some Wolves fans were upset 76ers guard Ben Simmons appeared to have Towns in a chokehold when lying on top of him while Towns was on the floor. However, officials didn’t think Simmons was a part of the fight.
“We deemed him a peacemaker,” Ayotte said of Simmons.