Tatum seals Celtics win over Sixers, Embiid

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics reacts after the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on February 25, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Celtics defeated the 76ers 110-107. (AFP)

LOS ANGELES (AFP) -- Jayson Tatum drained a three-pointer with less than two seconds remaining to give the Boston Celtics a thrilling 110-107 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in a heavyweight Eastern Conference clash on Saturday, Feb. 25.

The 571st meeting between the two NBA rivals lived up to its billing with the lead changing hands five times in an enthralling contest which ebbed and flowed before Tatum's stunning late winner.

Tatum had struggled to find his range throughout the game at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center but finally delivered when it mattered to give Boston victory on a night that saw Sixers talisman Joel Embiid score 41 points in vain.

Embiid almost forced overtime following Tatum's late three-pointer, launching a full-length three-pointer which found the net but was just a fraction too late to beat the buzzer.

"I wasn't playing my best, just wanted to find a way to impact the game at both ends," said Tatum, who finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds and six assists after going 7-for-17 from the field. 

"It's tough to win in this league. We just showed tonight our resilience and ability to figure it out."

The Celtics had overturned a 15-point deficit in the third quarter to put themselves in a winning position, with Al Horford coming up big with 15 points to help spark the rally. 

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics scoring with 26 points on a night when six Boston players finished in double digits.

"It's a hell of a team win," Tatum added. "(Jaylen) was playing well the whole night but guys everywhere were making plays, and that just speaks to the depth of our team and what we're trying to accomplish."

Tatum admitted he had looked away when Embiid launched his desperate late heave that came close to forcing overtime. 

"I turned around – I didn't even want to see it," Tatum said. 

"It's the NBA where amazing happens – I'm just glad it didn’t count."

Grizzlies rout Nuggets

The victory extended Boston's lead at the top of the Eastern Conference at 44-17, one game ahead of Milwaukee, second with 42-17. Philadelphia remain third on 39-20 following the loss.

The defeat was hard on Embiid, who had been magnificent throughout to help Philadelphia move 15 points clear at 67-52 early in the third period.

Embiid made 17 of 18 from the free throw line and finished with 12 rebounds and five assists in addition to his 41 points.

James Harden added 21 points with Tobias Harris pitching in with 19.

Elsewhere on Saturday, a meeting between the top two teams in the Western Conference saw the Memphis Grizzlies take down the top-ranked Denver Nuggets 112-94.

Memphis took the lead near the end of the first quarter and never looked back, at one stage stretching their lead to 35 points against an out-of-sorts Denver team.

Denver's reigning two-time NBA Most Valuable Player was restricted to 15 points to lead the Nuggets scoring. Only four Denver players made double-digits.

Memphis meanwhile spread their offensive threat around with Ja Morant leading the way with 23 points and Tyus Jones adding 17 off the bench including five three-pointers.

The New York Knicks stretched their winning streak to five games with a 128-106 blowout over the New Orleans Pelicans, thanks to 28 points from Julius Randle and 25 from RJ Barrett.

In Charlotte, the Hornets stung the Miami Heat 108-103 thanks to a career-high 18 points from Mark Williams and 21 points from Gordon Hayward.

Tyler Herro led the Miami scoring with 33 points -- including six three-pointers -- while Jimmy Butler added 28 points for Miami, who fell to 32-39 following the loss.