Philadelphia, PA —Jimmy Butler scored 32 points and waved “bye-bye” to the Philly crowd, and sent his Miami squad into the Eastern Conference finals with a 99-90 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night in Game six at the Wells Fargo Arena.
The Heat will play the winner of the Milwaukee-Boston series. The defending champion Bucks lead that series 3-2, with Game 6 on Friday night in Milwaukee.
After Butler knocked Joel Embiid out of the playoffs, he walked over to his former 76ers teammate and hugged him, told him he loved him and was proud of him.
Moments after the game, he embraced Embiid, Butler was asked what he had said.
“That I love him; I’m proud of him,” Butler said in a television interview. “Yes, yes, yes, I still wish I was on this team. I definitely love the Miami Heat, though, man. I’m glad that I’m here.”
The two were teammates in Philadelphia during the 2018-19 season, and there was a time when Butler thought he might remain in the city longer. Butler reminded his old team what they gave up during the playoffs.
Someone should of put out an APB on James Harden because he was definitely missing in action in the second half.
Harden scored all of his 11 points in the first half. He had four turnovers and four baskets. Harden, who has a $47.4 million player option for 2022-23, missed both shots in the second half and scored his last basket at the 3:31 mark of the second quarter.
Miami reached the conference finals for the second time in three seasons, again with Butler leading the way. Philly fans and many inside the 76ers organization — still can’t believe the franchise let Butler get away after the 2019 season. He got busy from the jump and scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the third quarter when the Heat used a 16-2 run to take control of the game. Butler scored 33 points in Game 3 and 40 in Game 4 and took 29 shots in Game 6.
“I think he’s one of the ultimate competitors in this profession,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He was brilliant all series long. The challenges only get tougher here. He saw there was an opportunity to end this tonight and he wasn’t going to let this get to seven.”
In the three seasons since he moved to Miami from Philadelphia, Butler has led the Heat to the Eastern Conference finals twice. The 76ers, who were on the verge of a conference finals berth with Butler and Embiid, are still trying to figure out how to get past the second round.
Harden, a three-time scoring champion, was supposed to broker the load with Embiid for a strong postseason run. Harden instead all but disappeared in the playoffs. He had a great Game 4 at home against Miami but otherwise was a turnover machine. When he lost the ball that led to a Miami bucket and an 80-63 lead in the fourth, the Sixers were booed off the hardwood.
Embiid, the NBA scoring champion, had no help at all and scored 20 points with 12 boards on 7-of-24 shooting.
“I know I tried. I think for the most part, we tried,” Embiid said. “It just wasn’t good enough.”
Max Strus poured in 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat.
Coming off a 35-point victory in Game 5, the Heat wore down a tired Sixers team. Embiid looked gassed as he tried to carry the Sixers. He had little springs in his legs and had a pull-up jumper blocked by Bam Adebayo in the third.
Coach Doc Rivers is signed through the 2024-25 season and another early departure — the 76ers were the No. 1 seed last year and lost in the second round — and his job status is a very hot topic of conversation.
“I don’t worry about my job. I think I do a terrific job. If you don’t, then you should write it,” Rivers said. “Because I worked my butt off to get this team here. When I first got here, no one picked us to be anywhere. Again this year, the same thing. If that’s how anyone feels, write it. I’m going to feel secure about it.”
Embiid remained to this day baffled and hurt that the Sixers let Butler go after forming a trio with Ben Simmons — egos aside — could have contended for championships for years to come.
“I still don’t know how we let him go,” Embiid said. “I wish I could have gone to battle with him still.”
Now the 76ers have the whole summer to figure out their next plan of action. Hopefully they can bring someone with Butler’s talent and demeanor. Only time will tell.
Heat: Are 7-1 in closeout Game 6s since 2006. Won their 30th career playoff series.
76ers: Have not advanced past the second round since 2001.