The Miami Heat took out the first ticket to the NBA Conference Finals on Thursday with a 99-90 win against the Philadelphia 76ers while the Dallas Mavericks led by a dazzling Luka Doncic forced the seventh and final game against the Phoenix Suns.
At the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Jimmy Butler got revenge against his former team with 32 points that propelled the Heat to settle the tie 4-2 on aggregate.
On the other hand, Joel Embiid, who competes with various injuries to his face and one hand, finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds but could not avoid his team’s fourth elimination at this stage in five years.
The Cameroonian, top scorer of the NBA season (30.6 points), had little support from teammates like Harden, who certified his failure in his first season in Philadelphia with 11 points and 9 assists.
“When we were on offense, the ball didn’t come back to me,” Harden justified after taking only two shots in the entire second half, both missed.
Sixers fans booed their players during the fourth quarter as Butler waved goodbye from the court.
“We’ve played well, we’ve made shots, we’ve defended and gotten the job done,” said Butler, who was runner-up with the Heat in 2020 just a year after his departure from the Sixers.
Philadelphia was once again overwhelmed by the intensity of the Heat in a series in which it had regained hope after the opening two losses in Miami without Embiid.
Refusing to miss out on the best season of his career, Embiid joined the series racing in a mask that protects him from a facial fracture.
This Thursday he presented all the battle he could in a game in which he suffered several falls and blows to the face.
– The Harden fiasco –
With Embiid depleted, the Sixers needed the best version of James Harden, whom they drafted in February with the hope that he would be the missing piece to fight for the ring.
But the three-time league leading scorer and 2018 MVP had one of the most disappointing performances of his career.
The 32-year-old shooting guard assured after the game that he will not exercise his option to become a free agent.
“I’m going to be here” next year, stressed Harden, for whom Philadelphia gave the Nets All-Star point guard Ben Simmons and two first-round draft picks.
The Heat will face either the Boston Celtics or the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Finals, who dominate their series 3-2.
– Doncic eclipsa a los Suns –
On the verge of elimination, the Dallas Mavericks entrusted themselves to Luka Doncic to overwhelm the Phoenix Suns 113-86 and force a seventh and final game of this West semifinal.
Doncic continues to amaze in the playoffs by bordering on the triple double with 33 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists at the American Airlines Center in Dallas (Texas).
“We played well, with rhythm, without turnovers,” he stressed. “Now we have another game, the team wants it. It’s fun, it’s playoffs and we’re going to give it our all.”
At 23 years old, the Slovenian point guard has managed to raise the game of a group without any other figure until he left the Suns, the best team by far in the regular phase, on the ropes.
“We work all season for this, to have home field advantage,” stressed Devin Booker (19 points), offensive leader of the Suns, who will host the seventh and decisive game on Sunday.
Doncic, who is averaging 32 points and 9.8 rebounds in this series, once again outshone veteran Suns game manager Chris Paul, who had 13 points and 4 assists.
Paul, who turned 37 last week, again failed to protect the ball, committing 5 of the Suns’ 22 turnovers to just 6 for Dallas.
“I think we didn’t understand the desperation they were going to play with. The losses we made today are a recipe for what we got,” Suns coach Monty Williams said.
The leading scorer for the Suns was center DeAndre Ayton (21 points and 11 rebounds), who received a technical foul for an elbow to the face by Doncic while trying to score.
The Slovenian, who went on to star in two unusual dunks, took advantage of the attention he receives from his rivals to enable shooters like Reggie Bullock (19 points and 5 triples) and Spencer Dinwiddie (15 and 5).
The winner of this tie will face either the Memphis Grizzlies or the Golden State Warriors, who lead their series 3-2.