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The Miami Heat are headed to the Eastern Conference Finals after finishing off the Sixers in Game 6 on Thursday night thanks to a huge third quarter run that was spearheaded by Jimmy Butler.
In a series not lacking on storylines, Butler putting the dagger in a Sixers team that he once played for was among the juiciest, and after the game both he and Joel Embiid lamented their breakup in 2019, heaping praise on one another. First it was Butler in his ESPN walkoff interview, talking about how proud he was of Joel and saying he wishes he was still on his team, while also noting he’s thrilled to be with the Heat.
"I love him. I'm proud of him."
Jimmy Butler shouts out Joel Embiid and says he wishes he still played with him. pic.twitter.com/Q1MF8VUi3F
— ESPN (@espn) May 13, 2022
Embiid likewise returned the love in his postgame presser, lamenting how the Sixers let him go and still not being sure why that was the case.
"I still don't know how we let him go."
Joel Embiid still in pain over losing Jimmy Butler to the Heat pic.twitter.com/vN51ioWSy0
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) May 13, 2022
That fateful summer saw the Sixers sign Tobias Harris to a 5-year, $180 million deal and Al Horford to a 4-year, $109 million deal (who is now starring for Boston in the playoffs after a rather dismal tenure in Philly) instead of bringing back Butler. Part of the calculus for that decision was believing Harris was a better fit with the Embiid-Ben Simmons pairing, freeing Simmons up to be more of an on-ball player, which obviously didn’t work out as Simmons is now in Brooklyn and James Harden, who took two shots in the second half of Game 6, is in Philly.
After that walkoff interview in which Butler was quite diplomatic, he offered a more candid expression of his feelings towards the Sixers and their decision-making as he entered the tunnel, yelling “Tobias Harris over me?!”
Jimmy Butler with a strong message for the 76ers after the Heat beat Philly in the Eastern Conference Finals. “Tobias Harris over me?”
— WPLG Local 10 Sports (@Local10Sports) May 13, 2022
It is another twist of the knife for Sixers fans who have more than a few “what ifs” to consider about major transactions in the past few years. That Embiid and Butler have been so public in acknowledging how much they miss each other, it also begs the question of whether they will eventually push to partner up again the next time one of them is approaching free agency.