Jimmy Butler on Thursday 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 76ers in Game 6.
Butler knocked Joel Embiid out of the playoffs, then walked over to his former 76ers teammate and hugged him, told him he loved him and was proud of him.
Butler then headed out of a familiar court a winner and straight into another conference finals with Miami.
“Now I’m where I belong,” Butler said. “Guess where I should have been a long time ago.”
The Heat are to play the winner of the series between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics.
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 cannot believe the franchise let Butler get away after the 2019 season.
He did not mess around, scoring 14 points on six-of-nine shooting in the third quarter when the Heat used a 16-2 run to take control.
Butler scored 33 points in Game 3, 40 in Game 4 and took 29 shots in Game 6.
“I think he’s one of the ultimate competitors in this profession,” Heat 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.”
Embiid, the NBA scoring champion, had no significant help, making 20 points with 12 rebounds on seven-of-24 shooting.
“I know I tried. I think for the most part, we tried,” Embiid said. “It just wasn’t good enough.”
Embiid remained to this day befuddled and hurt that the Sixers passed on Butler after forming a trio with Ben Simmons that — egos aside — could have contended for championships for years.
“I still don’t know how we let him go,” Embiid said. “I wish I could have gone to battle with him still.”
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 Simmons as the cornerstone ball handler. Simmons was unhappy and forced a trade this season to the Brooklyn Nets for James Harden.
Harden, a three-time scoring champion, was supposed to shoulder the load with Embiid for a potent post-season 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.
In Dallas, Texas, Luka Doncic got his first victory in an elimination game, scoring 33 points as the Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns 113-86 to force a deciding game in the Western Conference semi-finals.
The Mavericks won when facing elimination for the first time in three tries with the 23-year-old Doncic, their three-time All-Star point guard.
The two losses came against the LA Clippers in the past two seasons, including Game 7 in Los Angeles last year after the visitors won the first six games, a first in the playoffs.
Dallas are playing beyond the first round for the first time since winning the title 11 years ago, when first-year coach Jason Kidd was their main point guard.
“I don’t know if he was playing as if he was trying to do something different,” Kidd said of Doncic. “I think he enjoys the moment. You guys have seen a little bit longer than I have up close. He’s not afraid of the stage. I think you guys call it the first time winning an elimination game. He’ll be in this situation a long, long time.”
The Suns, seeking a second consecutive trip to the conference finals, are going the distance in a series for the first time in two post-seasons with Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
The previous three went six, including Phoenix’s loss to Milwaukee last year in the NBA Finals.
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