BOSTON — Joel Embiid responded to criticism from Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley with a season-high 38 points, adding 13 rebounds on Thursday night to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 115-109 victory over the Boston Celtics.

Embiid scored 16 points in the fourth quarter, hitting five of six free throws in the final 26 seconds to hold off Boston’s last charge. With Philadelphia leading by four in the final 15 seconds, he blocked Daniel Theis’ shot to help clinch it.

Tobias Harris had 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Sixers, who won their fourth straight game and their eighth in nine tries.

Kemba Walker scored 29 points for Boston, which lost at home for the first time this season. Enes Kanter came off the bench with 20 points and nine rebounds, and Gordon Hayward scored 19.

Earlier in the week, Barkley said Embiid is the toughest matchup in the league, but he doesn’t take advantage of it. O’Neal said on the TNT broadcast that Embiid shouldn’t settle for 22 points a game, his current average, but should aim for more like 28 or 30.

Embiid’s response: “They’re right.”

Then he went out and showed it.

After helping the Sixers hang around for three quarters, he dragged them to a 106-97 lead with just over two minutes left. Walker hit three free throws, then Kanter scored on a tip-in and Hayward hit a fallaway jumper with to make it 106-104 with 61 seconds left.

It was 110-106 when Tatum sank a rainbow 3-pointer over Embiid to make it a one-point game.

But Embiid hit his foul shots, and then gave the 76ers a stop on defense to help them pull two games ahead of rival Boston in the Eastern Conference.

Walker scored 12 points in the first quarter, when the Celtics opened an eight-point lead before Philadelphia scored eight in a row to tie it. Boston scored the last six points of the first and the first basket of the second to make it 36-28, but that lead didn’t last, either.

It was a three-point game at halftime, then back-and-forth in the third before the Sixers began to pull away in the fourth.

NOTES

THE NBA says former Commissioner David Stern suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage Thursday and had emergency surgery.

The league says in a statement its thoughts and prayers are with the 77-year-old Stern’s family.

Stern served exactly 30 years as the NBA’s longest-tenured commissioner before Adam Silver replaced him on Feb. 1, 2014. Stern has remained affiliated with the league with the title of commissioner emeritus and has remained active in his other interests, such as sports technology.

ADAM SILVER announced Thursday night that Capitanes – a Mexico City-based team from the top Mexican professional league – will be joining the G League starting with the 2020-21 season as the league’s 29th team.

Capitanes becomes the first G League team from outside the U.S. and Canada. Silver says bringing a G League team to Mexico City “is a historic milestone for the NBA which demonstrates our commitment to basketball fans in Mexico and across Latin America.”

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