Jimmy Butler leads Miami Heat back to Eastern Conference Finals

Jimmy Butler leads Miami Heat back to Eastern Conference Finals

PHILADELPHIA — The Miami Heat are advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in three years after beating the Philadelphia 76ers 99-90 in Game 6 of their second-round series Thursday night.

As throughout the series, it was Jimmy Butler who led the way when his team needed him most. After going just 3 to 10 in the first half, Butler got going in the third quarter, scoring 14 of his 32 points while carrying his team to the finish line.

Max Strus picked up the offensive doldrums for the second straight game, pouring in 16 of his 20 first-half points while setting the tone for a Heat team confident they’d put down shots after only 14 to 1 had played. 65 from beyond the arc during losses in Games 3 and 4 in Philadelphia.

Joel Embiid’s injuries were the main storylines, both on and throughout the series. But it was Butler’s overall performance that has come to the fore over the past week and a half as Embiid, who was also struggling with a ligament injury in his thumb as well as an orbital fracture, struggled to produce the same kind of MVP performances that defined his regular season.

After a shaky Game 1 in which he went off the field just 5-to-16, Butler found his rhythm and brought his game close to where he played during the 2020 playoffs. Butler had 73 points combined in Games 3 and 4 and amassed 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a crucial win in Game 5 Tuesday night.

“More than anything, my teammates, my coaches, this entire organization really believe in the player that I am,” Butler said after Game 5, explaining why he’s consistently been able to raise the level of his game over his three years in Miami. “The player I’ve become over the years. So allow me to be me here.

“They allow me to just hop and not say too much. Good, bad, indifferent, they rock with me. And I think that’s the best feeling, especially now in the playoffs. And I think that’s why coach Pat [Riley] brought me here and we are where we are.”

Now the Heat awaits for the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks-Boston Celtics series. The Bucks have a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 of this series takes place in Milwaukee on Friday night.

A matchup between Bucks and Heat would mark the third straight season the two teams have met in the playoffs. The Heat beat the Bucks in the 2020 Eastern Conference Semifinals before the Bucks defeated the Heat in the 2021 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

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