Julius Erving scored 24 points to join six other 76ers in double figures yesterday as they returned to first place in the Atlantic Division with a 126-94 victory over the visiting Boston Celtics.

The 76ers lead their division by a half-game with three games left in the regular season. Boston has four.

Philadelphia shot 60 percent to take a 60-41 halftime lead, then held off a Celtic threat. Boston closed to nine early in the fourth quarter.

The 76ers outscored the Celtics, 15-2, over three minutes of the first quarter. Darryl Dawkins had seven of those points as a one-point margin became a 27-13 lead with 5:27 left. From a 35-21 advantage after one period, the 76ers increased their lead to 20 twice in the second en route to their 19-point halftime advantage.

The Celtics, who trailed the entire game, closed to 10 on two free throws by Nate Archibald with 1:23 remaining. But the 76ers, although outrebounded, 18-8, in the period, still led, 88-75, going into the fourth.

Larry Bird, who led Boston with 19 points, made two baskets in the first 1:20 of the final period to bring the Celtics to 88-79. But Dawkins and Erving led an 11-3 streak that gave Philadelphia a 99-82 lead with 8:17 remaining. The 76ers later scored eight points in a row, five by Bobby Jones, to turn the game into a rout.

Maurice Cheeks scored 18, Dawkins 17 and Bobby Jones 15 for Philadelphia. Archibald and Robert Parish, who was hurt by fouls in the first half, each scored 15 for the Celtics.