Jimmy Butler knocked Joel Embiid out of the playoffs and then went over to give his former 76ers teammate a hug and text him.
“‘I’m proud of him. I love him,'” Butler said of telling Embiid. “Yeah yeah yeah I still wish I was on his team. But I love the Miami Heat. I am glad to be here.”
With another trip to the conference finals, the Heat are happy to have him.
Butler scored 32 points and waved “bye bye” to the Philly crowd as he sent Miami into the Eastern Conference Finals Thursday night in Game 6 with a 99-90 win over Philadelphia.
The Heat plays the winner of the Milwaukee-Boston series. Defending champion Bucks leads that series 3-2 with Game 6 on Friday night in Milwaukee.
The Heat advanced to the Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons, again with Butler at the helm. Philadelphia fans — and many within the 76ers organization — still can’t believe the franchise let Butler get away with it after the 2019 season. He didn’t play around and scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the third quarter as the Heat used a 16-2 run to take control. Butler scored 33 points in Game 3 and 40 in Game 4.
“I think he’s one of the ultimate competitors in this profession,” said coach Erik Spoelstra. “He’s been brilliant the whole series. The challenges only get harder here. He saw that there was an opportunity to finish this tonight and he didn’t want to let it get to seven.”
Embiid, the NBA scoring champion, scored 20 points on 7-of-24 shooting.
The Heat wore down a battered Sixers team with a 35-point win in Game 5. Embiid looked gassed as he bravely attempted to carry the Sixers. He had little buoyancy and was blocked by Bam Adebayo with a pull-up jumper in the third.
The Sixers parted ways with Butler largely because they preferred Ben Simmons over him. Simmons was unlucky, forcing a trade to Brooklyn for James Harden that season. Harden, a three-time scoring champion, should shoulder the burden for a powerful postseason push with Embiid. Harden pretty much disappeared in the playoffs instead. He had a fantastic Game 4 at home against Miami but was otherwise a sales machine. When he lost another ball that led to a heat bucket and an 80-63 lead in the fourth, the Sixers were booed off the field.
“We tried to try right away,” Harden said. “We just fell a little short.”
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 made his last basket at the 3:31 mark of the second quarter.
Few in Philadelphia would give The Beard a passing grade. Harden said he would return next season.
Coach Doc Rivers begged his team to “fight for it!” in the scrum during the fourth. The 76ers just fell flat.
“At the end of that game, I came to the conclusion that we weren’t good enough to beat Miami,” Rivers said.
Rivers is signed for the 2024-25 season and another early exit – the 76ers were No. 1 last year and lost in the second round – and his job status is a hot topic of conversation.
“I’m not worried about my job. I think I’m doing a great job. If not, then you should write it,” Rivers said. “Because I worked my ass off to bring this team here. When I got here nobody chose us to be anywhere. The same again this year. If someone feels like this, write it. I will feel safe doing it.”
Max Strus had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the heat. Another miserable night from the three-point range — Miami missing 21 of 28 attempts — didn’t matter either.
Embiid had to once again cave in a postseason game in his mask (right socket fracture) and torn ligaments in his right thumb after being cleared to return just last week after suffering a concussion. He was holding the back of his head after smacking it onto the pitch following a fall late in the second quarter. Embiid played 22 minutes in the first half and scored 14 points.
Embiid missed the first two games of the series while recovering from the concussion. The Sixers lost both games in Miami. Would a healthy Embiid have made a difference? Maybe not, but it’s still another sudden end for the All-Star cornerstone who has yet to see a conference finals.
Phoenix Suns 86-113 Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic scored 33 points and the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Phoenix Suns 113-86 Thursday night to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The home side have won all six games, none by a margin of less than seven points. The decisive game is in Phoenix on Sunday.
The Mavericks won when they were eliminated for the first time in three tries with Doncic, their three-time All-Star.
The two losses came in the last two seasons against the Clippers, including Game 7 in Los Angeles last year after the visitors won the first six games, a first in the playoffs. Dallas is playing past the first round for the first time since winning the title 11 years ago.
The Suns, looking to reach the West Finals for the second straight season, are going the distance in a series for the first time in two postseasons with Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The previous three became six, including Phoenix’s loss to Milwaukee in last year’s NBA Finals.
Booker scored 19 points but was left out of the 3-point range (0 of 4) while going 6 of 17. Deandre Ayton had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Paul added 13 points.
The top-seeded Suns were held at a season-low in the regular season or the playoffs for the second time in the series.