PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid had 37 points, 22 rebounds and a key block on Kyrie Irving with 35 seconds remaining, and Jimmy Butler scored 15 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Philadelphia 76ers over the Boston Celtics 118-115 on Wednesday night for their sixth straight victory.
Tobias Harris added 21 points for the 76ers, who avoided a season sweep by the Celtics. Philadelphia (47-25) holds the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, three games ahead of idle Indiana and four in front of fifth-place Boston.
Irving scored 36 points for the Celtics.
The game was tied at 113 with a minute left before Ben Simmons converted a three-point play. He banked in a shot with his right hand and got fouled by Marcus Morris, hitting the free throw to make it 116-113 with 40.8 seconds to go. Embiid then rejected a driving Irving on the Celtics’ ensuing possession and Butler sealed it with a long jumper from the wing with 4.7 ticks remaining.
The 76ers finally broke their hex against Boston.
The host Celtics took the season opener 105-87, won a nationally televised Christmas game 121-114 in overtime also in Boston and earned a 112-109 win in Philadelphia on Feb. 12. Boston also eliminated the 76ers from the playoffs last season, and 76ers coach Brett Brown acknowledged prior to Wednesday’s game that it was important for Philadelphia psychologically to defeat Boston.
It didn’t appear that would happen for much of the night.
A turning point might have come early in the second half when tempers flared.
Marcus Smart took objection to Embiid sticking his left elbow out as Smart ran past the Philadelphia big man on defense. With Embiid’s back turned, Smart gave Embiid a two-handed shove that sent him sprawling toward the sideline. An enraged Embiid got up and went after Smart. Both players were restrained, and no punches were thrown. After an officials’ review, Smart was tossed for a Flagrant 2 foul.
A motivated Embiid scored the next eight points to help Philadelphia close a 69-58 halftime deficit.
The 76ers, who trailed by 15 in the first half, played catch-up for most of the game. Philadelphia took just its second lead on Embiid’s layup that made it 109-108 with three minutes left. The advantage was 111-108 after Butler’s drive with 2:25 left.
Boston: Gordon Hayward (concussion) missed his second straight game. . Aron Baynes injured his left ankle with 5:07 left in the first half and didn’t return. . The Celtics dropped to 17-18 on the road. … Smart exited with three points.
Philadelphia: JJ Redick had 17 points and Simmons scored 13. . The 76ers improved to 29-9 at home. They have 10 games left in the regular season.