PHILADELPHIA • At the end of Game 6 of the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Eastern Conference semi-finals on Thursday night, Jimmy Butler embraced his former Philadelphia 76ers teammate Joel Embiid, and then walked off the court a proud winner and into another conference finals with the Miami Heat.
"Now I'm where I belong," Butler said. "Guess where I should have been a long time ago."
The Heat punched their ticket to the Eastern finals with a 99-90 victory over the Sixers, while the Dallas Mavericks staved off elimination in the West.
Butler scored 32 points to fuel Miami against his former team, the victory in Philadelphia giving the Heat a 4-2 triumph in their best-of-seven, second-round series.
"Joel, my guy. My brother. Who I'd pick for MVP," Butler added.
"It feels good to beat him. I'm not going to lie to you. I've got a lot of love for this city. A lot of love for guys in that locker room. So any time you get to beat a former team, it's special."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, meanwhile, was full of praise for his star man, saying: "I think he's one of the ultimate competitors... He was brilliant all series long. He saw there was an opportunity to end this tonight and he wasn't going to let this get to seven (games)."
Sixers' star centre Embiid was playing with torn ligaments in his right thumb and a facial fracture that required a protective mask.
He finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. But the Cameroonian star connected on just seven of 24 shots from the field and former Most Valuable Player James Harden did not pick up the offensive slack, finishing with just 11 points.
"I know I tried. I think for the most part, we tried," Embiid said.
"It just wasn't good enough."
Miami reached the conference finals for the second time in three seasons. They fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals.
Butler has played a key role in their recent success.
He joined the team after the 2019 season, when the Sixers essentially opted to let him go and put their faith in Ben Simmons.
A disgruntled Simmons was shipped to Brooklyn this season in exchange for Harden. But the three-time NBA scoring champion has not shown the offensive form the Sixers were looking for to take some of the burden off Embiid and Philadelphia have not made it past the second round since 2001.
Elsewhere, the Phoenix Suns, the top seeds in the West, will head home tomorrow needing a Game 7 victory after falling 113-86 to the Mavericks in Dallas.
Luka Doncic scored 33 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and handed out eight assists for the Mavs.
Deandre Ayton led Phoenix with 21 points while scoring star Devin Booker finished with 19.
Doncic shone on all fronts, adding four steals while surrendering just one turnover to help his team shake off a blowout defeat in the previous game.
"Everybody was locked in, the energy was amazing," Doncic said.
Reggie Bullock added 19 points and Jalen Brunson scored 18 for Dallas, who still face a tall order having not won a game in Phoenix since 2019.
As the Mavs gear up for Game 7 on the road, the Heat await either the defending champions Milwaukee Bucks or Boston Celtics.
The Bucks take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 in Milwaukee.
In the West, the Golden State Warriors also lead the Memphis Grizzlies 3-2. Both Games 6 will take place this morning (Singapore time).