5 takeaways from the Heat’s closeout Game 6 victory over the 76ers

Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid’s relationship has remained strong since they split as teammates, even as the Heat keep advancing further than the Sixers.

Heat-76ers: Complete series coverage

PHILADELPHIA — Maybe the bubble run wasn’t a fluke.

The Miami Heat are going back to the Eastern Conference finals, where they will face either the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks (who lead their series 3-2) or the Boston Celtics. On Thursday, the Heat eliminated the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, turning a one-point game into a comfortable win after a 19-4 run to start the third quarter.

Here are some notes, numbers and film from the 99-90 victory that put the Heat in the conference finals for the ninth time in the franchise’s 34 seasons:

1. Big Game Jimmy

Jimmy Butler’s offensive game has what, for some, could be a fatal flaw. Among 217 players with at least 200 field goal attempts from outside the paint in the regular season, only Jalen Suggs (32.9%) and Anthony Davis (34.5%) had a lower effective field goal percentage on those shots than the Heat’s star (36.9%).

But Butler’s jumper hasn’t been so bad in the postseason, and he didn’t need to do a ton from the outside in order to average a series-high 27.5 points in the series. After shooting 5-for-16 in Game 1, he averaged 30 points on 54% shooting over the last five games, capping that run with 32 points on 13-for-29 in Game 6.

Butler scored in a bevy of ways, including in the pick-and-roll:

Jimmy Butler pick-and-roll basket

It was a performance (in a familiar gym) that had both his current and former teammates lauding Butler’s ability to come up big in big games.

“I didn’t know how good Jimmy was until I got here,” P.J. Tucker said. “I thought he was a good player. I didn’t think he was that good. I thought, ‘He a’ight.’

“He’s showing me more than I would have ever thought … His heart, how he’s never scared of the moment. And that in itself is a talent, because I’ve played with guys who are really good, but when they get in those big moments, they shy away and they don’t really want it. And he wants every part of every moment. He’s not scared at all. And he puts that [fearlessness] into a lot of different guys on our team. He really gives them confidence, in a weird way, but he does it.”

“I still don’t know how we let him go,” Joel Embiid said about Butler. “I wish I could go into battle with him still.”

2. Minimum contracts, maximum contributions

One guy does not win a series. And while the Heat brought in Kyle Lowry last summer to help Butler in the backcourt, the veteran point guard played only 56 (mostly ineffective) minutes in Miami’s two losses, dealing with a hamstring injury that could continue to limit him going forward. (The good news in that regard? With Dallas forcing a Game 7 with Phoenix, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals won’t be until Tuesday.)

Bam Adebayo was terrific defensively, especially in regard to keeping Embiid out of the paint. Tucker was similarly critical with his defense and timely offense. But, going back to the start of this season, those two (and Butler) were obviously expected to be key contributors.

Max Strus develops into Miami surprise, leading 2022 NBA Playoffs in plus-minus.

Max Strus and Gabe Vincent? Not so much.

Both of those guys were on two-way contracts last season. Both are on minimum deals this season, and neither has guaranteed money for next year. But they each started in all four of the Heat’s wins in this series.

Strus, a starter since late March, totaled 39 points and 21 rebounds over the last two games, registering the first two double-doubles of his career.

You can bring in high-priced free agents (like Butler) to lead you, but the ability to develop guys like Strus and Vincent is really what separates the league’s best franchises from all the others.

“They are everything that the Miami Heat organization is about,” Butler said of Strus and Vincent. “They play hard. They’re not selfish in the least bit. And more than anything, they just want to win.”

3. Hardly Harden

For the third time in this series, the Heat held the Sixers under a point per possession. Embiid was playing hurt and, with the way the Heat were defending him, unable to catch the ball anywhere near the basket.

The Sixers have another star, but James Harden was unable to step up, scoring just 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting on Thursday. Philly trailed by just one point at halftime and in the second half, Harden was scoreless, shooting 0-for-2 and adding four assists and three turnovers.

After the Sixers fell into a double-digit hole, Shake Milton went on a little run late in the third quarter. And at that point, it seemed that Harden was happy to defer to the guy who was barely playing at the start of this series.

“We ran our offense,” Harden said. “The ball just didn’t get back to me.”

Sixers’ season ends with frustration,…

Read More: 5 takeaways from the Heat’s closeout Game 6 victory over the 76ers

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