As quickly as their playoff recreation ended Thursday evening, Jimmy Butler of the Miami Warmth discovered Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers to embrace him and say goodbye. The 2 stars had been teammates in Philadelphia through the 2018-19 season, and there was a time when Butler thought he would possibly stay within the metropolis longer. The 76ers had other plans, although, and that slight has stayed with Butler.
Moments after he embraced Embiid, Butler was requested what he had mentioned.
“That I like him; I’m happy with him,” Butler mentioned in a tv interview. “Sure, sure, sure, I nonetheless want I used to be on his crew. I undoubtedly love the Miami Warmth, although, man. I’m glad that I’m right here.”
The Miami Warmth are glad, too.
Within the three seasons since he moved south from Philadelphia, Butler has led the Warmth to the Japanese Convention finals twice. The 76ers, who had been on the cusp of a convention finals berth with Butler and Embiid, are nonetheless attempting to determine methods to get previous the second spherical.
On Thursday, Butler scored 32 factors to assist his Warmth get rid of the 76ers with a 99-90 victory in Recreation 6 of their second-round playoff collection.
“He will get extremely determined in shut video games or when he sees the sunshine on the finish of the tunnel to shut out a crew,” Warmth Coach Erik Spoelstra mentioned. “He’s not going to depart it to probability. He noticed the chance — ‘Hey, we have now a possibility to finish this tonight’ — and he wasn’t going to let this go to seven.”
It was a recreation that felt extra lopsided than its last rating indicated. With 1 minute 8 seconds left, and Miami main by 14 factors, the 76ers pulled their starters, leaving Embiid and James Harden to look at their season finish from the bench.
The sport closed a disappointing spring for the 76ers, who had hoped to compete for a championship this 12 months after they traded for Harden in February.
Harden appeared disinterested at instances as he dedicated 4 turnovers whereas additionally contributing 11 factors, 9 assists and 4 rebounds. After Philadelphia had tied the collection at 2-2, Harden mentioned his teammates had been solely then beginning to jell in a method that would propel them to a championship. Two video games later, they had been out.
Embiid, who had missed the primary two video games of the collection with a concussion and an orbital fracture, performed with that fracture nonetheless therapeutic and a thumb damage beginning in Recreation 3. He scored 20 factors and had 12 rebounds on Thursday, however his accidents cleared the way in which for Butler to be the very best participant within the collection.
“Jimmy’s all the time been this for us within the playoffs,” Spoelstra instructed reporters earlier than the sport as he was prodded about Butler’s position. “No matter’s wanted. And it is perhaps completely different recreation to recreation.”
Butler is understood for lots of issues, not all of them flattering. On his greatest days he gives stifling protection and potent offense, however he additionally has a repute for irritating his teammates and coaches, and forcing his method out of groups. He can work himself to the purpose of exhaustion within the service of profitable a recreation, or launch into a screaming fight in a sideline huddle.
That happened in March, when he and Spoelstra needed to be separated by different gamers and coaches a number of instances. Spoelstra laughed it off after that recreation, attributing the second to tempers flaring throughout a loss.
Within the playoffs, Butler has proven his greatest aspect.
“Jimmy is a superb competitor,” Spoelstra mentioned Thursday. “I believe he’s one of many final opponents on this occupation. I believe loads of issues get misplaced in translation.”
Recreation 6 came about on the third anniversary of a painful day in Philadelphia sports activities historical past. On Could 12, 2019, the 76ers had been tied with the Toronto Raptors in Recreation 7 of an Japanese Convention semifinal collection when Kawhi Leonard, then with the Raptors, launched a final shot from in front of the Raptors bench as time expired. The ball hit the rim in three completely different locations earlier than lastly falling by way of the online, ending the 76ers’ season.
Butler was on the court docket that day, watching helplessly from the lane as Leonard’s shot danced across the rim after which dropped, however he by no means received an opportunity to reply it the next season. The 76ers weren’t keen to decide to Butler over the long run, and he left that summer season and joined the Warmth in a sign-and-trade deal.
He carried Miami to the N.B.A. finals within the bubble in his first playoff run a 12 months later, and now, after a first-round exit final 12 months, he’s headed again to the convention finals after serving to the Warmth put up the very best document within the Japanese Convention this season.
He’s additionally retaining rating. After ending off his previous crew, Butler was caught on the digicam by a Miami tv station exclaiming, “Tobias Harris over me?”
Like Butler, Harris, who nonetheless performs for the 76ers, was acquired by Philadelphia through the 2018-19 season. However the 76ers signed Harris to a five-year deal price $180 million the identical summer season the crew despatched Butler to Miami.
Later, Butler spoke like a person at peace.
“Now I’m the place I belong,” he instructed reporters. “I suppose, the place I ought to have been a very long time in the past. A spot the place I’m welcome.”