National Sports

Butler propels Heat past Sixers into NBA Eastern Conference finals

(AFP)

The Miami Heat punched their ticket to the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals on Thursday as Jimmy Butler scored 32 points to key a 99-90 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The victory in Philadelphia gave the Heat a 4-2 victory in their best-of-seven second-round series against the 76ers. They’ll take on either the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks or Boston Celtics for a place in the NBA Finals.

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The Bucks take a 3-2 lead in that series into game six on Friday in Boston.

“We needed to get one (on the road),” Butler said. “We played well, made shots, guarded and got the job done.”

The Sixers, with star center Joel Embiid playing with torn ligaments in his right thumb and a facial fracture that required a protective mask, kept pace early, trailing by just one point — 49-48 — at halftime.

That was despite the first-quarter departure of Danny Green, who suffered a left knee injury and was carried to the locker room when Embiid inadvertently came down on him after rising for a basket less than midway through the first quarter.

However, the Heat caught fire in the third quarter, with Butler scoring 14 points in the period as Miami out-scored the 76ers 25-15 to take control of the contest.

Former Sixer Butler added eight rebounds and four assists on the night. Max Strus scored 20 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for Miami, who double- and triple-teamed Embiid to keep the Sixers at bay.

Embiid finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. But Embiid connected on just seven of 24 shots from the field and former MVP James Harden didn’t pick up the offensive slack, finishing with 11 points on four of nine shooting.

Harden missed both of the two shots he attempted in the second half.

Miami reached the conference finals for the second time in three seasons since Butler joined the team after the 2019 season — when the 76ers essentially opted to let him go as they brought in Ben Simmons.

A disgruntled Simmons was shipped to Brooklyn this season in exchange for Harden. But the three-time NBA scoring champion hasn’t shown the offensive form the 76ers were looking for to take some of the burden off Embiid and the 76ers haven’t made it past the second round since 2001.

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