LOS ANGELES • Joel Embiid scored 35 points as the Philadelphia 76ers returned to top spot in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday with a 106-96 National Basketball Association (NBA) victory over the Boston Celtics.
The Cameroonian centre, playing in his second game since returning from a 10-game injury lay-off, led from the front as the Sixers overpowered the Celtics in the third and final regular season meeting between the two teams.
Last season, Boston swept Philadelphia in the first round, prompting wholesale management changes. Having fired coach Brett Brown for Doc Rivers and added Mike D'Antoni and Daryl Morey to the backroom, the Sixers are 35-16, while the Celtics (25-26) are eighth in the East and in danger of missing out on the post-season for the first time since 2013-14.
The differing fortunes of both teams - the NBA's oldest rivalry - and another disappointing night at the TD Garden saw the hosts booed by their own fans midway through the third quarter.
The Celtics have now been swept in the regular season by the Sixers for first time since 2001 and coach Brad Stevens admitted their rivals had outmuscled them.
"You have to be sure with the ball against them because otherwise they get running in transition," he said. "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."
Embiid is key to the Sixers' physicality, although the All-Star admitted that he was still working his way back from injury.
"It's all about me putting game together and getting back to where I was," he said.
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.
Talen Horton-Tucker led the Lakers scoring off the bench with 17 points in just over 25 minutes.
The champions have fallen to fifth in the West (32-19) in the absence of All-Star duo LeBron James and Anthony Davis, with no return date set for either forward.