PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid ignited the onslaught with two routine free throws. Tyrese Maxey pushed his team ahead with a 3-pointer from the left wing. Matisse Thybulle and Josh Richardson provided the spice by jawing after Richardson whacked the 76ers’ wing streaking toward the bucket. And Maxey capped the surge with a reverse layup.
The Sixers rode a dominant first quarter to a 111-99 victory over the Boston Celtics Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center, using a 28-2 run to turn an early 10-4 deficit into a comfortable 20-point advantage.
The emphatic win — the Sixers’ eighth in their past nine games — officially pushed them to the midway point of a strange 2021-22 regular season that has included numerous injuries and COVID-19 bouts, plus the Ben Simmons saga still lingering with less than a month remaining until the NBA trade deadline. The Sixers (24-17) entered the night in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, then unleashed perhaps their best defensive stretch of basketball since outscoring the Atlanta Hawks 20-9 in the fourth quarter to rally to a 98-96 victory back in early December.
The 20-point halftime lead was the Sixers’ largest of the season. During those first 24 minutes, they scored 17 points off 11 Celtics turnovers, held them to 30.8% shooting (including a combined 4 for 20 from stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown) and limited Boston to 10 points in the paint.
Though the Celtics briefly flustered the Sixers with their rare switch to a zone defense, Philly prevented any significant second-half rally. After a driving layup by Tatum cut the Sixers’ lead to 85-72 early in the fourth quarter, Philly answered with two Maxey free throws, an Andre Drummond tip-in and a 3-pointer by Maxey.
The Sixers next travel to Miami, is second in the Eastern standings, for a Saturday showdown on the second night of a back-to-back set.
Embiid’s scoring streak ends
After eight consecutive games with 30 or more points, Embiid finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. He shot 7 of 15 from the floor, but went a perfect 9 of 9 from the free-throw line.
He re-entered the game with 22 points about midway through the fourth quarter. He missed a corner 3-pointer early in that stint. He tried to posterize Aaron Nesmith with a one-handed driving dunk, which clanked off the rim and drew an offensive foul. He hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with about four minutes to play, then exited the game less than a minute later.
Early on, he delighted the crowd by backing down former teammate Al Horford and hitting a jumper over the double-team. He hit another jumper in the big first-quarter run to put the Sixers up 26-12, then a late turnaround to push their advantage to 48-29. His lone 3-pointer came early in the third.