As soon as their playoff game wrapped up Thursday night, Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler found Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers hugging and greeting him. The two stars were teammates in Philadelphia during the 2018-19 season, and there was a time when Butler thought he could stay in town longer. The 76ers he had other plansthough, and that slight stuck with Butler.
Moments after hugging Embiid, Butler was asked what she said.
“I love him; I’m proud of him, “Butler said in a televised interview.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I still wish I was on this team. Anyway, I love the Miami Heat, mate. I’m glad to be here. “
The Miami Heat are happy too.
In the three seasons since moving south from Philadelphia, Butler has led the Heat twice to the Eastern Conference Finals. The 76ers, who were on the eve of a conference final with Butler and Embiid, are still trying to figure out how to get through the second round.
On Thursday, Butler scored 32 points to help his Heat take out the 76ers with a 99-90 win in Game 6.
“He becomes incredibly desperate in close matches or when he sees the light at the end of the tunnel to close a team,” said heat manager Erik Spoelstra. “He won’t leave it to chance. He saw the opportunity – ‘Hey, we’ve got a chance to get it over with tonight’ – and he wasn’t going to let it go at seven. “
It was a match that seemed more lopsided than the final score indicated. With 1 minute and 8 seconds left and Miami leading by 14 points, the 76ers withdrew their starters, leaving Embiid and James Harden to watch the end of their season from the bench.
The game ended a disappointing spring for the 76ers, who were hoping to compete for a championship this year after being swapped with Harden in February.
Harden seemed disinterested at times as he committed four turnovers while also contributing 11 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds. After Philadelphia drew the series 2-2, Harden said only then was his team starting to freeze 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 due to a concussion and facial injuries, played with that still healing fracture and a thumb injury starting in Game 3. He scored 20 points and had 12 rebounds Thursday, but his injuries obliterated Butler’s way of being the best player in the series.
“Jimmy has always been that to us in the playoffs,” Spoelstra told reporters before the game as he was prodded about Butler’s role. “Whatever is necessary. And it might be different from game to game.
Butler is known for many things, not all for flapping his wings. In his best days he provides a suffocating defense and powerful attack, but he also has a reputation for irritating his teammates and coaches and forcing them out of teams. He can commit himself to exhaustion in the service of winning a game, or throw himself a screaming brawl in a sideline huddle.
That happened in March, when he and Spoelstra had to be separated several times by other players and coaches. Spoelstra laughed after that match, attributing the moment to inflamed spirits during a defeat.
In the playoffs, Butler showed his best team.
“Jimmy is a great contender,” Spoelstra said Thursday. “I think he is one of the latest competitors in this profession. I think a lot of things get lost in translation. “
Game 6 took place on the third anniversary of a painful day in Philadelphia’s sporting history. On May 12, 2019, the 76ers drew with the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of a series of Eastern Conference semifinals when Kawhi Leonard, then with the Raptors, threw a final shot from in front of the Raptors bench when time runs out. The ball hit the edge in three different places before finally falling into the net, ending the season for the 76ers.
Butler was out on the court that day, watching helplessly from the lane as Leonard’s shot danced around the edge and then crashed, but he never got a chance to respond the following season. The 76ers were unwilling to commit to Butler for the long term, and that summer he walked away and joined the heat in a sign-and-trade deal.
He took Miami to the NBA Finals in the bubble in his first playoff run a year later, and now, following a first-round exit last year, he’s returned to the conference finals after helping the Heat set the best record in the ‘east Conference this season.
It also keeps the score. After finishing his old team, Butler was caught on camera by a Miami TV station exclaiming, “Tobias Harris on me?”
Like Butler, Harris, who still plays for the 76ers, was joined by Philadelphia during the 2018-19 season. But the 76ers signed him for a five-year contract 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 am welcome “.