Joel Embiid scored 35 points as the Philadelphia 76ers returned to top spot in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday with a 106-96 victory over the Boston Celtics.
Cameroonian star Embiid, playing in his second game since returning from a 10-game injury layoff, led from the front as the Sixers overpowered the Celtics in the third and final regular season meeting of the two teams.
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Danny Green added 17 points while Ben Simmons had 12. Tobias Harris and Furkan Korkmaz finished with 10 points apiece as the Sixers improved to 35-16 to edge ahead of the Brooklyn Nets in the East.
Despite his 35-point display, Embiid believes he is still not firing on all cylinders as he works his way back from injury.
“It’s only my second game back,” Embiid said. “I’m still working through it to get back to the shape I was in before I got hurt, but I’m feeling great.
“The body feels healthy. It’s all about me putting game together and getting back to where I was.”
Embiid however was disgusted with his shooting performance from the free throw line. Despite making 16 of 20 attempts for an 80 percent success rate, Embiid believes it should have been more.
“Too many misses,” Embiid said. “I should be a 90 percent free throw shooter. That’s why I get pissed off — they’re called free throws. I should be making more.”
A disappointing night at the TD Garden for the hosts saw Boston booed by their own fans midway through the third quarter as the Sixers surged into a 21-point lead after a Simmons layup.
Although the Celtics closed the margin to 10 points at the buzzer, the contest was effectively over long before the end.
– ‘Gamble backfired’ –
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said his team had paid the price for a lack of precision.
“We were loose with our passes, we took too much of a gamble, too much of a risk and it backfired,” Stevens said.
“You have to be sure with the ball against them because otherwise they get running in transition.
“They are big, strong physical guys that take you where they want to go. It puts you in a bind if you’re not able to hold your ground individually. They play a physical brand of basketball.”
Jayson Tatum led the Boston scorers with 20 points while Jaylen Brown finished with 17 as Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker added 14 apiece.
The defeat leaves the Celtics with a 25-26 record for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
In Toronto, the injury-hit Los Angeles Lakers had seven players in double figures in a 110-101 win over the Raptors to kick off a daunting five-game road trip with an encouraging victory.
Talen Horton-Tucker led the Lakers scoring off the bench with 17 points in just over 25 minutes on court as the NBA champions bounced back from their humiliating 104-86 rout by the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
“We got embarrassed on Sunday against the Clippers,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We were all on a long flight angry about how that game went.
“Our mindset was to take it out on the Raptors and we did, thanks to great ball movement, and an angry, nasty defensive disposition.”
Elsewhere Tuesday, Nikola Jokic scored 27 points with 11 assists and eight rebounds as the Denver Nuggets extended their winning streak to six games with a 134-119 rout of the Chicago Bulls.
A balanced offensive display from Denver saw Michael Porter Jr. add 25 points, while Will Barton finished with 24.