By Austin Medina
The Miami Heat are moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals after defeating the Philadelphia 76ers in six games. In Miami’s 99-90 close out victory, star forward Jimmy Butler was on a mission. He finished the game with 32 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. The Heat have relied on Butler all season and in this series, the matchup for Butler was personal.
Only three years ago, Butler was a member of the 76ers. Philadelphia acquired him in a trade with the Timberwolves and although he played just one season with the squad, his impact in that short stint is well-known.
Butler was embraced by star 76ers center Joel Embiid early and the two have been friends ever since. After the Sixers were bounced in Game 7 by Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia had major decisions to make. Both Butler and forward Tobias Harris were unrestricted free agents. At this point, the Sixers were building around a young core of Embiid and Ben Simmons.
The Sixers decided to resign Harris to a five-year, $180 million contract, shutting out any possible reunion with Butler. Philadelphia made their bed and, by doing so, drove Butler to a new destination: South Beach.
Since that eventful summer in 2019, both Miami and Philadelphia have been on completely different trajectories. Miami has flourished with Butler and the emergence of young stars such as Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. Miami has an impressive 22-14 record in playoff games in which Butler has played and his leadership has set the organization up for long-term success. In their first season, Butler and the Heat appeared in the NBA Finals. While they’re playoff hopes ended prematurely in 2021, Miami regrouped and are back in the championship mix this year.
As for the 76ers, safe to say no one is trusting the process currently. Since choosing Harris over Butler, the 76ers have won just two playoff series including a series win against the Washington Wizards. Ben Simmons refused to play entering this season and was eventually traded to Brooklyn for James Harden. The Harden experiment proved to be a disaster, as his quickness appears to have diminished.
While Embiid’s impact limited with injuries against Miami, the Sixers issue was that the surrounding pieces didn’t step up. Harden looked disinterested and simply put, Philly could not rely on their $180 million man. Harris averaged just 16.7 points per game in 12 playoff games. Meanwhile Butler has averaged 28.7 points in 10 games, including 32 points in the close out.
As Butler left the court, cameras caught him saying “Tobias Harris over me?” Yep, the Sixers made a choice and chose wrong. As Embiid enters another offseason without a Finals appearance and without a legit second option, Butler and the Heat are advancing to their second conference finals in three seasons.