NBA: Jimmy Butler propels Heat past Sixers into Eastern Conference Finals

Jimmy Butler (left) shoots over Danny Green during the second round of the NBA playoffs in Pennsylvania on May 12, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP, REUTERS) - The Miami Heat punched their ticket to the National Basketball Association's Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday (May 12) as Jimmy Butler scored 32 points in their 99-90 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The victory in Philadelphia gave the Heat a 4-2 victory in their best-of-seven second-round series against the 76ers. They will take on either the defending NBA champions Milwaukee Bucks or Boston Celtics for a place in the NBA Finals.

The Bucks take a 3-2 lead in that series into Game 6 on Friday in Boston.

"We needed to get one (on the road)," Butler said. "We played well, made shots, guarded and got the job done."

The Sixers, with star centre Joel Embiid playing with torn ligaments in his right thumb and a facial fracture that required a protective mask, kept pace early, trailing by just one point - 49-48 - at half-time.

That was despite the first-quarter departure of Danny Green, who suffered a left knee injury and was carried to the locker room when Embiid inadvertently came down on him after rising for a basket less than midway through the first quarter.

However, the Heat caught fire in the third quarter, with Butler scoring 14 points in the period as Miami out-scored the 76ers 25-15 to take control of the contest.

Former Sixer Butler added eight rebounds and four assists on the night. Max Strus scored 20 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for Miami, who double- and triple-teamed Embiid to keep the Sixers at bay.

Embiid finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. But he 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 11 points on four of nine shooting.

Harden missed both of the two shots he attempted in the second half.

Miami reached the Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons since Butler joined the team after the 2019 season - when the 76ers essentially opted to let him go as they brought 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 76ers were looking for to take some of the burden off Embiid and the 76ers have not made it past the second round since 2001.

In Dallas, Luka Doncic recorded 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and four steals to help the Mavericks notch an easy 113-86 victory over the Phoenix Suns to even their Western Conference semi-final series at three wins apiece.

Reggie Bullock made five three-pointers while contributing 19 points and seven rebounds for Dallas. Jalen Brunson added 18 points for the fourth-seeded Mavericks, who outscored Phoenix by 24 points over the final three quarters of the easy Game 6 win.

Deandre Ayton registered 21 points and 11 rebounds and Devin Booker added 19 points on just 6-of-17 shooting for the top-seeded Suns. Chris Paul had 13 points but committed five turnovers while handing out just four assists.

The decisive Game 7 will be played on Sunday in Phoenix. The home team has won all six games in the series.

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