PHILADELPHIA — Jimmy Butler knocked Joel Embiid out of the playoffs before walking up to his former Sixers teammate to hug and leave a message.
“‘I’m so proud of him. I love him,'” Butler told Embiid. “Yes, yes, yes, I still wish I was on his team. I do like the Miami Heat though. I’m glad I’m here.”
With another trip to the Western Conference finals on the horizon, the Heat are happy to have him.
Butler beat Philadelphia 99-90 in Game 6 on Thursday night to send Miami to the Eastern Conference finals with 32 points and waved “goodbye” to the Philadelphia crowd.
The Heat will play the winner of the Milwaukee-Boston series. The defending champion Bucks lead 3-2 Friday night in Game 6 in Milwaukee.
The Heat reached the Western Conference finals for the second time in three seasons, with Butler leading again. Philly fans — and many inside the Sixers — still can’t believe the team let Butler go after the 2019 season. He scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the third quarter as the Heat held a 16-2 run. Butler had 33 points in Game 3 and 40 in Game 4.
“I think he’s one of the ultimate contenders in this profession,” coach Eric Spoelstra said. “He’s been great throughout the series. The challenge is only going to get tougher here. He sees a chance to end it tonight and he’s not going to let it go to seven.”
NBA scoring champion Embiid scored 20 points on 7-of-24 shooting.
With a 35-point victory in Game 5, the Heat defeated a battered 76ers team. Embiid looked aggressive trying to carry the Sixers. He had little lift and was blocked on a pull-up jumper by Bam Adebayo in the third quarter.
The Sixers chose Butler in large part because they chose Ben Simmons over him. Simmons was upset and was forced to trade to Brooklyn for James Harden this season. Three-time scoring champion Harden was supposed to shoulder the postseason responsibilities alongside Embiid. Instead, Harden all but disappeared in the playoffs. He was great in Game 4 at home against Miami, but otherwise was a turnover machine. The Sixers were booed off the court when he lost another ball that gave the Heat an 80-63 fourth-quarter lead.
“We’re trying to do it right away,” Harden said. “We’re just 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 in 2022-23, missed two shots in the second half and made his final basket at 3:31 of the second quarter.
Few in Philadelphia would give the Beard a passing grade. Harden said he’ll be back next season.
Coach Doc Rivers implored his team to “fight for this!” in the fourth run. The 76ers just fell flat.
“My conclusion at the end of this game was that we weren’t good enough to beat Miami,” Rivers said.
Rivers signed for the 2024-25 season and once again pulled out early — the Sixers were No. 1 seed last year and lost in the second round — and his job status is a hot topic.
“I don’t worry about my job. I feel like I’m doing a great job. If you don’t, then you should write about it,” Rivers said. “Because I tried my best to get this team here. When I first came here, no one chose us to go anywhere. Again this year, same thing. If anyone feels that way, write about it … I’ll feel safe about that.”
Max Strus had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat. Even another bad night of 3-pointers — Miami missed 21 of 28 attempts — didn’t help.
Embiid was sidelined again after tearing his mask (fractured right orbit) and a ligament in his right thumb, as he only recovered from a concussion last week. He hit the back of his head on the court after falling late in the second quarter. Embiid still played 22 minutes in the first half and scored 14 points.
Embiid recovered from a concussion and missed the first two games of the series. The 76ers lost two games in Miami. Would a healthy Embiid make a difference? Maybe not, but it’s still another abrupt end for an All-Star cornerstone who has yet to taste the Western Conference finals.
Heat: Kyle Lowry is out again with a left hamstring injury. He paced the Heat court like a coach and called teammates to talk strategy at free throws and other breaks.
76ers: Danny Green left with a serious left knee injury in the first quarter. Embiid rushed up for a bucket and hit Green as they fell on the court. Green, who is averaging 5.9 points per game this season, grabbed his leg and was carried off the court.
Heat: 7-1 in Game 6 since 2006. … won their 30th career playoff series.
76ers: Haven’t advanced to the second round since 2001.
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