Jimmy Butler scored 32 points and waved “bye bye” to the Philly crowd as he sent the Miami Heat into the Eastern Conference finals with a 99-90 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night in Game 6.
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.
The Heat reached the conference finals for the second time in three seasons, again with Butler leading the charge. Philly fans — and many inside the 76ers organization — still can’t believe the franchise let Butler get away after the 2019 season. He did not mess around and scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the third quarter when the Heat used a 16-2 run to take control.
Joel Embiid, the NBA scoring champion, scored 20 points for Philadelphia on 7-of-24 shooting.
Coming off a 35-point victory in Game 5, the Heat wore down a battered Sixers team. Embiid looked gassed as he gamely tried to carry the Sixers. He had little lift and had a pull-up jumper blocked by Bam Adebayo in the third.
The Sixers parted with Butler in large part because they chose Ben Simmons over him. Simmons was unhappy and forced a trade this season to Brooklyn for James Harden. Harden, a three-time scoring champion, was supposed to shoulder the load with Embiid for a potent postseason push. Harden instead all but disappeared in the playoffs. He had a fantastic Game 4 at home against Miami but otherwise was a turnover 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 court.
Harden scored all of his 11 points in the first half. He had four turnovers and four baskets.
Few in Philly would give The Beard a passing grade.
Coach Doc Rivers implored his team to “fight for this!” in the huddle during the fourth. The 76ers just fell flat.
The Heat are thrilled with an NBA championship still in play. Max Strus had 20 points and 11 rebounds. Even another abysmal night from 3-point range — Miami missed 21 of 28 attempts —- failed to matter.
Embiid again gutted out a postseason game in his mask (right orbital fracture) and with torn ligaments in his right thumb after he was only cleared to return last week from a concussion. He held the back of his head after he knocked it on the court after a fall late in the second quarter. Embiid still played 22 minutes in the first half and scored 14 points.
Embiid missed the first two games of the series as he recovered 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 to the All-Star cornerstone who has yet to taste a conference final.
Saturdays just got more interesting.