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Celtics edge Lakers amid controversy, Embiid out-duels Jokic

Boston's Jayson Tatum defends LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers on the final attempt of regulation in the Celtics' 125-121 NBA overtime victory over the Lakers. ©AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) - The Boston Celtics edged the Los Angeles Lakers 125-121 in an overtime battle tinged by controversy on Saturday as Philadelphia 76ers big-man Joel Embiid out-dueled Denver's Nikola Jokic as NBA rivalries took center stage.

The league-leading Celtics came out on top in a game that featured 19 lead changes, snapping a three-game skid.

The Lakers led by seven midway through the fourth quarter, but Jaylen Brown converted a three-point play to tie it up at 105-105 with 4.1 seconds left.

He went on to score 11 points in the extra session after LeBron James's drive to the basket at the end of regulation ended in a miss, with James and the Lakers pleading for a foul call after Jayson Tatum brushed his arm.

The call didn't come and Boston prevailed, withstanding a 41-point performance from James -- who jumped up and down in frustration at the non-call before kneeling on the court.

"The best player on Earth can't get a call -- it's amazing," said Lakers coach Darvin Ham, who spoke of the "agony" of losing such a huge game.

"I don't understand it," James said, adding that he didn't think it was the first time a non-call proved costly to the Lakers this season.

Los Angeles star Anthony Davis said the Lakers were "cheated," and officiating crew chief Eric Lewis told reporters after the game that the crew had "missed the play."

"There was contact," Lewis said."At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul."

Brown preferred to focus not on officiating or the rivalry but on Boston's quest to remain the dominant team in the East.

"It was a much-needed win," he said."We lost the last three, so we wanted to come out and get a win today."

Ham noted that any game between the Celtics and Lakers -- who have faced each other a record 12 times in the NBA Finals -- is "always hotly contested."

Brooklyn Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said that "generational" rivalry made his team's crosstown rivalry with the New York Knicks look puny -- an impression that only increased when the Nets notched a ninth straight win over the Knicks, 122-115.

With superstar Kevin Durant and teammate Ben Simmons sidelined by injury, Kyrie Irving scored 32 points, coming alive with 21 fourth-quarter points as the Nets held on, even after the Knicks -- who trailed by as many as 19 -- cut the deficit to three points with 3:07 to play.

Irving posted his sixth straight game of 30 or more points.

76ers rally

Things were perhaps more personal in Philadelphia, but Embiid, who finished runner-up to Jokic in voting for Most Valuable Player honors the past two seasons, insisted there was no "rivalry" between him and the Nuggets star.

"I love the big fella," Embiid told broadcaster ABC after pouring in 47 points to lead the 76ers to a 126-119 victory.

Embiid also grabbed 18 rebounds to help the Sixers erase a 15-point halftime deficit on the way to a seventh straight win.

Embiid, who also missed out on selection as an All-Star Game starter this week, said the contest was about the 76ers testing themselves against the Western Conference's top team.

"I think he's more of a motivation to go out and try to win the whole thing," Embiid said of Jokic, who led the Nuggets with 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists."I guess that's the only way I'm probably going to get that respect."

Elsewhere, Chris Paul scored 31 points and Mikal Bridges added 25 as the Phoenix Suns spoiled San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich's 74th birthday with a 128-118 overtime victory over the Spurs.

Phoenix never trailed, but the Spurs forced overtime with a late surge in regulation before Bridges and Paul scored eight points apiece in the extra session and the Suns escaped.

In Atlanta, Kawhi Leonard scored 32 points and Paul George added 23 to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to a fifth straight victory, 120-113 over the Hawks.

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