BOSTON — This was indeed a long time coming for the 76ers.
Tuesday’s 106-96 victory over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden enabled them to sweep the season series with their archrivals for the first time since the 2000-01 season and the fourth time overall.
In the process, Joel Embiid had 35 points and six rebounds in his second game back from a left knee bone bruise. He made 16 of 20 fouls shots.
This Sixers also prevailed 117-109 on Jan. 20 and 122-110 on Jan. 22 against the Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center. Due to a shortened schedule, teams are playing interconference opponents three times this season instead of four.
Philly came close to accomplishing that feat last season. The Sixers won the first three meetings before losing the fourth and final game. Then the Celtics went on to sweep them in the first round of the playoffs.
But both teams are distinctly different from the end of last season.
Back then, the Sixers were a team in disarray.
Now at 35-16, they’re tied with the Brooklyn Nets atop the Eastern Conference standings. Meanwhile, the Celtics (25-26) look nothing like the squad that reached last season’s conference finals. One could argue a lot of that has to do with their having key players sidelined this season due to testing positive for COVID-19 or contacting tracing.
Things apparently aren’t getting better.
Celtics guard Evan Fournier missed Tuesday’s game due to being in the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol. Fournier, who was acquired from the Orlando Magic on March 25, will likely be out all week.
Center Tristan Thompson, who had COVID-19, has been cleared to return after being sidelined since March 11. But he missed Tuesday’s game while being in the league’s reconditioning program.
On this night, the Celtics used various centers.
Robert Williams III, who at 6-foot-8, got the start against the 7-2 Embiid. He didn’t provide much resistance, while picking up three first-quarter fouls. Williams eventually fouled out with 9:29 remaining.
Luke Kornet, at 7-2, was the sixth man. Then Mo Wagner (6-11) and Tacko Fall (7-5) all came in. Power forward Semi Ojeleye (6-6) even guarded him late.
Embiid had 12 points on 3-for-5 shooting while making all six of his foul shots in 10 minutes, 28 seconds during the first quarter. He only had three points on 1-for-4 shooting in the second quarter.
Fall came in for Kornet for the final 3:13 of the half. With him in the game, Embiid settled for and missed two 3-pointers before intermission.
But Embiid went back to playing at a high level in the third quarter, scoring 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting. The Sixers built a commanding 21-point lead (79-58) on Ben Simmons’ layup with 5:01 left in the third quarter. That basket came on an assist from Embiid.
Embiid went on to add nine points in the fourth.
Danny Green (17 points, 5-for-6 on 3-pointers), Simmons (12 points), Tobias Harris (10 points, eight rebounds) and Furkan Korkmaz (10 points) were the Sixers’ other double-digit scorers.
Jayson Tatum paced the Celtics with 20 points. Jaylen Brown added 17.