As their play-off game ended on Thursday night, Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat embraced the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embed and said goodbye. The two stars were teammates in Philadelphia during the 2018-19 season, and there was a time when Butler thought they could stay in the city longer. The 76ers had other plans, though, and it stayed with Butler a little bit.
Moments after embracing Embed, Butler was asked what he had said.
“I love it; I’m proud of it,” Butler said in a televised interview. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I still wish I was on his team. I definitely love the Miami Hat, though, man. I’m glad I’m here.”
Miami hats are happy too.
In the three seasons since moving south from Philadelphia, Butler has twice taken the hat to the Eastern Conference finals. The 76ers, who were on the conference final berth with Butler and Embed, are still trying to figure out how to get through the second round.
On Thursday, Butler scored 32 points to help his hat-trick finish the 76ers with a 99-90 victory in Game 6 of their second round playoff series.
“He gets incredibly frustrated when he sees a light at the end of a tunnel to close a team or at a nearby game,” said head coach Eric Spoilstra. “He won’t let her go. He saw the opportunity – ‘Hey, we have a chance to finish it tonight’ – and he wouldn’t let her go until seven.”
It was a game that felt more one-sided than its final score. With 1 minute and 8 seconds left, and Miami 14 points ahead, the 76ers pulled their starters, leaving Embed and James Harden off the bench to watch the end of their season.
The game ended a disappointing spring for the 76ers, who had hoped to compete for the championship this year after trading for Harden in February.
Harden sometimes looked disinterested as he made four turnovers and added 11 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds. After Philadelphia drew the series 2-2, Harden said his teammates were just starting to laugh in a way that would take them to the championship. After two games, they were out.
Embed, who missed the first two games of the series with a connection and orbital fracture, played with a fracture that is still healing and a thumb injury is starting in Game 3. He scored 20 points and had 12 rebounds on Thursday, but his injuries healed. The way to become the best player in the series for Butler.
“Jimmy has always been this way for us in the playoffs,” Spoilstra told reporters before the game when he was worried about Butler’s role. “Whatever is needed. And it can be a different game from the game.
Butler is known for many things, not all of them flatter. In his best days, he provides defensive and strong offense, but he also has a reputation for harassing his teammates and coaches and forcing them out of teams. He can work himself to the point of exhaustion in the service of winning or starting a game. Screaming fight in the sideline huddle.
They Happened In March, when he and Spoilstra had to break up with other players and coaches several times. After the game, Spoilstra laughed at him, attributing the moment to the rage that erupted during the defeat.
Butler has shown his best in the playoffs.
“Jimmy is a great contender,” Spoilstra said Thursday. “I think she’s one of the ultimate rivals in the profession. I think a lot of things get lost in translation.
Game 6 took place on the third anniversary of a tragic day in the history of Philadelphia sports. On May 12, 2019, the 76ers were tied with the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Final Series when Cavi Leonard, then with the Raptors, started a final shot in front of the Raptors bench at the end of the time. The 76ers’ season ended with the ball hitting the rim in three different places and eventually falling into the net.
Butler was on the court that day, watching helplessly from Lane as Leonard’s shot danced around the rim and then fell, but he never got a chance to respond the following season. The 76ers were unwilling to make a long-term commitment to Butler, and he left this summer to join the Hat in a signing and trade deal.
He led Miami to the NBA Finals in Bubbles in his first playoff run a year later, and now, after being knocked out of the first round last year, he is back after helping the Hats set the best record in Eastern. Going to the final of the conference. Conference this season.
He also has a score. After finishing his old team, Butler was caught on camera by a Miami television station saying, “Tobias Harris on me?”
Like Butler, Harris, who still plays for the 76ers, was acquired by Philadelphia during the 2018-19 season. But the 76ers signed Harris to a five-year, $ 180 million contract that same summer, the team sent Butler to Miami.
Later, Butler spoke like a peaceful man.
“Now I am where I belong,” he told reporters. “I guess that’s where I should have been a long time ago. A place where I’m welcome.