Jimmy Butler scored 32 points and waved "bye bye" to the Philly crowd as he sent the Miami Heat into the NBA's Eastern Conference finals with a 99-90 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 6.
The Heat will play the winner of the Milwaukee-Boston series. The defending champion Bucks lead that series 3-2, with Game 6 on Friday night in Milwaukee.
The Heat reached the conference finals for the second time in three seasons, with Butler again leading the charge in Philadelphia on Thursday.
Philly fans - and many inside the 76ers organisation - still can't believe the franchise let Butler get away after the 2019 season.
Butler did not mess around and scored 14 points on six-of-nine shooting in the third quarter when the Heat used a 16-2 run to take control.
"I think (Butler) is one of the ultimate competitors in this profession," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He was brilliant all series long."
Joel Embiid, the NBA scoring champion, scored 20 points for Philadelphia on seven-of-24 shooting.
Coming off a 35-point victory in Game 5, the Heat wore down a battered Sixers team.
Embiid remained to this day befuddled and hurt that the Sixers passed on Butler after forming a trio with Ben Simmons that - egos aside - could have contended for championships for years.
"I still don't know how we let him (Butler) go," Embiid said. "I wish I could have gone to battle with him still."
The Sixers parted with Butler in large part because they chose Simmons as the cornerstone ball handler.
Simmons was unhappy and forced a trade this season to Brooklyn for James Harden.
Harden, a three-time scoring champion, was supposed to shoulder the load with Embiid for a potent postseason push. Harden instead all but disappeared in the playoffs.
He had a fantastic Game 4 at home against Miami but otherwise was a turnover machine. When he lost another ball that led to a Heat bucket and an 80-63 lead in the fourth, the Sixers were booed off the court.
Harden scored all of his 11 points in the first half. He had four turnovers and four baskets.
"I'm sure since we got him, everybody expected the Houston James Harden," Embiid said. "But that's not who he is anymore."
Embiid again gutted out a postseason game in his mask (right orbital fracture) and with torn ligaments in his right thumb after he was only cleared to return last week from a concussion.
In Dallas, Luka Doncic scored 33 points as his Dallas Mavericks beat the top-seeded Phoenix Suns 113-86 to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference semi-finals.
The home team has won all six games, none with a final margin closer than seven points. The deciding game is Sunday in Phoenix.
The Suns, seeking a second consecutive trip to the West finals, are going the distance in a series for the first time in two postseasons with Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The previous three went six, including Phoenix's loss to Milwaukee last year in the NBA Finals.
Booker scored 19 points but was shut out from 3-point range (0 of 4) while going 6 of 17. Deandre Ayton had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Paul added 13 points.
Reggie Bullock scored 19 points and Jalen Brunson added 18 for Dallas. Spencer Dinwiddie had a series-high 15, all on 3s (5 of 7).
Australian Associated Press
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