PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid dropped a step-back 3-pointer and stated the shot was “nasty.” His game at an MVP level, Embiid has avoided the flops that have dogged his career — putting up numbers as he dodged the claim he should be too big to flail.
Embiid had 38 points and 11 rebounds, Tobias Harris scored 23 points and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Boston Celtics 122-110 on Friday night.
“We’ve got a great group of guys and we’re still learning how to play with each other,” Embiid said. “We’re only going to get better.”
Seth Curry returned to the Sixers’ starting lineup following a seven-game absence because of a positive COVID-19 test and scored 15 points.
Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 42 points and nine rebounds and Marcus Smart had 20 points.
Back at full health, the 76ers again played like a force in the East
Embiid followed a 42-point outing in a win over Boston on Wednesday with another fantastic effort. Embiid, who said he had a sore back following a hard fall on his tailbone, made 14 of 15 from the free-throw line — a familiar home after some mild criticism from Smart.
Smart said Embiid “flails and gets the calls” after the All-Star center went to the line 21 times in his 42-point game. The Celtics shot just 20 free throws in that loss and none in the fourth quarter.
Embiid laughed off the criticism and said Smart was just as theatrical when it came to trying to draw a foul.
“Great actors know great actors,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers quipped before the game.
Smart earned an A in histrionics early in the game when Embiid turned to throw an outlet pass after he saved the ball from going out of bounds. Smart hit the hardwood like a wrestler as Embiid’s elbow breezed by his face. Embiid patted Smart’s chest and they had a brief conversation as they walked off the court together headed into a timeout.
The Sixers defense had waned as COVID-related absences wrecked the lineup over the past 10 days. The Sixers turned the ball over late in the second, forcing Rivers to pull down his mask and yell “wake up!” The Celtics took a 52-49 lead into the break.
The Sixers woke up.
Embiid scored 11 points in the third — on the strength of 6 of 6 from the line — and the Sixers outscored the Celtics 42-28 and grabbed the lead. The 42 points were the most in the Sixers scored in the third in almost two years.
“He realizes he’s got guys that can help him be great,” 76ers guard Ben Simmons said of Embiid. “He’s talking a lot more. His leadership his grown.”
Simmons converted a three-point play late in the fourth that snuffed a short Boston run, then picked off a pass and dunked for a 108-100 lead. Harris followed with a 3 and the two-game sweep was on. Simmons had 15 points and 11 assists.
“I caught them falling asleep a few times and tried to make plays for my teammates,” Simmons said.
The Celtics had no answers in the fourth as the Sixers improved to 8-0 with their regular starting lineup.
“I’m disappointed in the way that we played in multiple big possessions in the fourth quarter,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We have to be more detail-oriented. Everything has to be crisper. Everything has to be tighter. Everything has to be done to perfection when the other team is locked in.”