For the first 24 minutes of action Thursday night, it looked like the Miami Heat might have some work to do. For the last 24 minutes, it was yet another convincing win and another trip to the next round.
Jimmy Butler was again the star in leading the Heat with 32 points as Miami won 99-90 to win the Eastern Conference semifinals in six games.
Miami took a 48-47 lead into the half thanks to 16 points in the first half from guard Max Strus and 10 points off the bench from guard Tyler Herro.
The Heat extend the lead with a 19-4 start to the third quarter thanks in part to buckets from forwards Butler and P.J. Tucker along with center Bam Adebayo.
“I think he's (Butler) one of the ultimate competitors in this profession,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He was brilliant all series long. The challenges only get tougher here. He saw there was an opportunity to end this tonight and he wasn't going to let this get to seven.”
Philadelphia finally broke Miami's run with just over four minutes left in the quarter and cut the Heat's lead to 11 points entering the final quarter.
Three straight baskets by Adebayo and guard Victor Oladipo opened the fourth and Miami was well on their way to a second Eastern Conference Finals appearance in the last three seasons. The Sixers outscored Miami 18-7 to end the game and make the score closer than it actually was.
Strus finished the game with 20 points, equaling the number of points scored by Philadelphia star center Joel Embiid.
“I know I tried. I think for the most part, we tried,” Embiid said. “It just wasn't good enough.”
The Sixers parted with Butler in large part because they chose Ben 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. Harden, who has a $47.4 million player option for 2022-23, missed both shots in the second half and scored his last basket at the 3:31 mark of the second quarter.
Miami will be making their ninth all-time appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, going 6-2 in their previous trips. The Heat will play the winner of the semifinal between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, with the Bucks holding a 3-2 series lead entering Friday's Game 6.
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