The Miami Heat culture might be like no other and they continued that trend on Thursday night, closing out the Philadelphia Sixers in six games 99-90. They won in Philly after dropping two in a row in Games 3 & 4.
Their most consistent player all season, and it didn’t change in the postseason.
Jimmy Butler, who will advance to his second NBA Finals with the Heat in just his third season. He helped this franchise advance to their 9th Eastern Conference Finals in its franchise history. He came into Game 6 averaging 36.5 ppg on Philly’s floor in the first two games and finished with a game-high 32 points.
It was Butler’s 4th straight 30-pt game on the road tying the longest streak in franchise history (Dwayne Wade, 2005).
“We’re not scared of nobody,” Butler said about his team’s approach regardless of who suits up. “Everybody has been prepared for this all year. Guy’s have been in and out of the lineup, but were capable of it. We got one on the road, now on to the next one.”
But it was the collective defensive effort that propelled Miami to the Eastern Conference Finals. They held the Sixers to under 100 points for the third time in this series, all resulting in Miami wins. They held the Sixers to just 15 points in the 3rd and capitalized on the 13 turnovers turning those into 22 points.
Guard Max Strus picked up where he left off in Game 5 with his second consecutive double-double. He scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. The person whose play doesn’t always show up in box scores but has an impact every time he is on the floor, PJ Tucker. He didn’t put up huge numbers, just 12 points. But He picked up full-court and harrassed Sixers All-Star guard James Harden all series.
He has been a huge addition this offseason to this team, after helping the Milwaukee Bucks capture a NBA championship last year.
They were a +14 in rebounding (49-35) and 13 of them came on the offensive end.
“This is not easy. We have been doing this now for 27 years since Pat (Riley) came down to South Florida,” head coach Erik Spoelstra said after reaching his 6th Conference Finals as Miami’s head coach. “It’s not easy in this league and I wanted everyone in that locker room just to acknowledge that. It’s not everything, but it is something.”
Now the Sixers will fail to reach the Conference Finals for the 4th time in the last 5 years. They had, according to a lot of people, the MVP of this season in Joel Embiid and paired him with Harden they brought over from the Brooklyn Nets before the trade deadline.
Embiid, being far from 100% for the past four games, gave it everything he could. Playing with a torn ligament in your shooting thumb, and an orbital fracture under your right eye would be near impossible for any player to be themselves. He competed when he was out there and I’m sure his teammates appreciated that.
He scored 20 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.
“The goal was to win a championship, and it didn’t happen,” Embiid said. “Doesn’t matter if we would have lost in the 1st round, 2nd round, Conference Finals, or Finals.”
Young and upcoming guard Tyrese Maxey had 20 points after having a subpar nine points in Game 5.
The struggle for James Harden in the past two games were significant.
He scored only 11 points and didn’t scratch in the second half on two field goal attempts, after just 14 points in Game 5 on Tuesday night in Miami. “For me personally it’s just been a long year,” Harden said. “But since I’ve been here it’s been great. We tried to build a championship contending team so fast, which I still think we are but we just came up short.”
Harden played the most minutes in a half (22 minutes) regular season or playoffs without scoring. “Everybody was expecting Houston James (Harden), but that’s not who he is anymore,” Embiid said in a post-game interview.
But it was the 3rd quarter that was the difference. They outscored the Philly 25-15
We never got any offensive rhythm throughout the game more than just the second half,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “The turnovers, the sloppy play, just killed us. I just didn’t like how we played.”
“The jobs is not done,” Butler said.
Now the Heat await the winner of Milwaukee/Boston.