As soon as their playoff game ended Thursday night, Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat found Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers to embrace him and say goodbye. The two stars were teammates in Philadelphia during the 2018-19 season, and there was a time when Butler thought he might be in the city longer. The 76ers had other plans, though, and that has stayed with Butler.
Moments after he embraced Embiid, Butler asked what he had said.
“That I love him; I’m proud of him, “Butler said in a television interview. “Yes, yes, yes, I still wish I was on this team. I definitely love the Miami Heat though, man. I am glad that I am here. “
The Miami Heat are glad, too.
In the three seasons since he moved south from Philadelphia, Butler has led the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals twice. The 76ers, who were on the cusp of a conference finals with Butler and Embiid, are still trying to figure out how to get past the second round.
On Thursday, Butler scored 32 points to help his Heat eliminate the 76ers with a 99-90 victory in Game 6.
“He gets incredibly desperate in close games or when he sees the light at the end of the tunnel close to a team,” said Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra. “He’s not going to leave it to chance. He saw the opportunity – ‘Hey we have an opportunity to end this tonight’ – and he wasn’t going to let this go. “
It was a game that felt more lopsided than its final score indicated. With 1 minute 8 seconds left, and Miami leading by 14 points, the 76ers pulled their starters, leaving Embiid and James Harden to watch their season end from the bench.
The game closed for a disappointing spring for the 76ers, who had hoped to compete for a championship this year after they traded for Harden in February.
Harden looked disinterested at times as he committed four turnovers while also contributing 11 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds. After Philadelphia had tied the series at 2-2, Harden said his team was just starting to jell in a way that could propel them to a championship. Two games later, they were out.
Embiid, who missed the first two games of the series with a concussion and facial injuries, played with that fracture still healing and a thumb injury in Game 3. He scored 20 points and had 12 rebounds on Thursday, but his injuries cleared. Way for Butler to be the best player in the series.
“Jimmy’s always been in this for us in the playoffs,” Spoelstra told reporters before the game as he was prodded about Butler’s role. “Whatever’s needed. And it might be a different game to game. “
Butler is known for a lot of things, not all of them flattering. On his best days he provides stifling defense and potent offense, but he also has a reputation for irritating his teammates and coaches, and forcing his way out of teams. He can work himself to the point of exhaustion in the game of winning a game, or launching into it A screaming fight in a sideline huddleGeneral Chat Chat Lounge
That happened In March, he and Spoelstra had to be separated by other players and coaches multiple times. Spoelstra laughed it off after that game, attributing the moment to tempers flaring during a loss.
In the playoffs, Butler has shown his best side.
“Jimmy is a great competitor,” Spoelstra said Thursday. “I think he’s one of the ultimate competitors in this profession. I think a lot of things get lost in translation. “
Game 6 took place on a painful day in Philadelphia sports history. On May 12, 2019, the 76ers were tied with the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series when Kawhi Leonard, then with the Raptors, launched a final shot in front of the Raptors bench as time expired. The ball hit the rim in three different places before finally falling through the net, ending the 76ers’ season.
Butler was on the court that day, watching helplessly from the lane as Leonard’s shot danced around the rim and then dropped, but he never got an answer to the following season. The 76ers were not willing to commit Butler over the long term, and he left that summer and joined the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal.
He carried Miami to the NBA Finals in the bubble his first playoff run a year later, and now, after a first-round exit last year, he is headed back to the conference finals after helping Heat post the best record in the Eastern. Conference this season.
He ‘s also keeping score. After finishing off his old team, Butler was caught on the camera by a Miami television station exclaiming, “Tobias Harris over me?”
Like Butler, Harris, who still plays for the 76ers, was acquired by Philadelphia during the 2018-19 season. But the 76ers signed him to a five-year deal worth $ 180 million the same summer the team sent Butler to Miami.
Later, Butler spoke like a man at peace.
“Now I’m where I belong,” he told reporters. “I guess, where I should have been a long time ago. A place where I’m welcome. “