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Heat dominates second half, beats Philadelphia 76ers to advance to Eastern Finals

By Barry Jackson

For the second time in Jimmy Butler’s three years in Miami, the Heat is headed to a conference finals.

And fittingly, it was a concoction of Butler’s brilliance, suffocating defense and a Heat developmental success story at the epicenter of this series-clinching 99-90 win in Philadelphia.

No team does better work finding and nurturing undrafted, overlooked players, and one of them, Max Strus, helped spearhead this close-out victory with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists

With Butler scoring 32 and the Heat at the height of its game defensively, Miami closed out the 76ers in six games despite playing again without injured Kyle Lowry.

The Heat will play Boston or Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Game 1 set for either 3:30 p.m. Sunday or Tuesday evening at FTX Arena. The Bucks lead the Celtics 3-2 in their conference semifinal series.

This will be the Heat’s ninth conference finals; Miami has made the NBA Finals in its past five trips to that round.

The difference Thursday was a maniacal, defensively-dominant 19-4 run to open the third. Butler scored 12 points in that third quarter spurt, stretching a one-point Heat halftime lead to 68-52.

The Heat began the third making 8 of 12 shots, while the 76ers opened the quarter 2 for 16.

Butler ended up scoring 14 in that third quarter, which ended with the Heat ahead 74-63.

And instead of allowing the 76ers to hang around, the Heat shut the door on Philadelphia, unleashing an 8-0 run to start the fourth, stretching the lead to 17.

After Philadelphia pulled to within 11, Gabe Vincent hit a three with just over two minutes left.

Beyond Butler and Strus, credit Bam Adebayo, PJ Tucker and Vincent for impressive work, on both ends, in that dominant second half.

Adebayo - who took only one shot in the first half - closed with 10 points and 8 rebounds, shooting 5 for 5 from the field, with two steals and a block.

Tucker added 12 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks, with most of those numbers coming in the second half.

Meanwhile, the Heat improved to 6-0 in the playoffs when Vincent starts in Lowry’s absence.

Before Tuesday, Strus, on a minimum contract, had never produced a double-double in 119 NBA games.

Now he has double doubles in consecutive high-stakes playoff games, with Thursday’s effort following his 19 point, 10 rebound performance in Game 5.

Butler, meantime, ended up scoring 33, 40 and 32 points in three playoff games at Wells Fargo Arena, which was his home gym before his 2019 sign-and-trade to the Heat.

Butler - who shot 13 for 29 in Game 6 - added eight rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal on Thursday.

Philadelphia center Joel Embiid, the MVP runner-up, took only 12 shots in Game 5, but reached that total midway through the second quarter, despite facing frequent double teams, and even triple teams at times.

Though Embiid was more aggressive and somewhat productive (20 points, 12 rebounds), he wasn’t efficient, closing 7 for 24 from the field.

He shot 5 for 14 in the first half and 2 for 10 in the second half, tumbling to the court on at least six occasions while trying to play through two significant injuries (an orbital fracture and ligament damage to his thumb).

James Harden (11 points) went scoreless in the second half, missing his only two shots and committing three turnovers after intermission.

Tyrese Maxey - who torched the Heat in Games 4 and 4 in Philadelphia - shot 1 for 7 in the third, closing with 20 and four turnovers.

The 76ers lost Danny Green to a knee injury during that first quarter when he collided with Embiid. Green was carried off and replaced by Matisse Thybulle, a better defender but not nearly as skilled a three-point shooter.

With Strus scoring 16 in the first half, Miami went to the break ahead 49-48.

But once the third quarter began, the Heat looked even more dominant than it did in its 120-85 drubbing of the 76ers in Game 5.

The Sixers scored just 15 in the third, committing five turnovers and shooting 6 for 22 from the field and 1 for 8 on threes.

Erik Spoelstra went 10 deep, giving four first half minutes to Duncan Robinson and five to Caleb Martin. Robinson missed his only shot (a three) and fouled Maxey on a drive-by. And Miami was outscored by 9 during Martin’s minutes.

The Heat entered 17-0 all time after taking a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series. The 76ers, in their history, have never won a series that it trailed 0-2.

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Dive Deeper:
Greg Cote: Jimmy Butler and defense rise again as Heat eliminate 76ers, advance to Eastern finals
The Philadelphia 76ers were desperate and home Thursday night, must-win in the literal sense, the great James Harden in hero…
‘Not good enough’: Miami Heat scorch punchless Sixers to reach NBA’s last four
Jimmy Butler scored 32 points to send the Heat into the Eastern Conference finals with a 99-90 victory over the…
Joel Embiid: ‘Everybody expected the Houston James Harden, but that’s not who he is anymore’
Michael Scotto: Joel Embiid on James Harden: "Obviously, I'm sure since we got him, everybody expected the Houston James Harden,…
Dave Hyde: Heat’s undrafted players outplayed 76ers' pedigree — sports at its best
There was a moment in the second half of this signature Miami Heat night, this beautiful Thursday night, when the…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Heat crushes 76ers in Game 5 behind balanced attack, elite defense to take 3-2 series lead
MIAMI — The Miami Heat wasted two incredible performances from star Jimmy Butler in a pair of losses in Games…
Miami sharpshooter Max Strus is the under-the-radar, breakout star of the postseason
Welcome to Layup Lines, our daily NBA newsletter where we'll prep you for a tip-off of tonight's action, from what…
Get all your news in one place