The Philadelphia 76ers will have to wait at least one more game before clinching the top spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Had they won Thursday, it would have been theirs. But 21 points from Jimmy Butler allowed the Miami Heat to hold off the East's top team and earn a 106-94 victory.
The 39-31 Heat remain in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
As for the 47-23 76ers, Tobias Harris also dropped 21 points, but he had little help behind him in the loss.
- Jimmy Butler, Heat: 21 PTS, 5 REB
- Bam Adebayo, Heat: 18 PTS, 12 REB, 8 AST
- Tyler Herro, Heat: 18 PTS, 6 REB
- Tobias Harris, 76ers: 21 PTS, 4 REB
- Shake Milton, 76ers: 12 PTS, 4 REB
Jimmy Butler's Hot Start Fuels Heat
The 76ers won both of the previous tilts against the Heat this season, but that was amid the team's COVID-19 outbreak that left it with just eight available players. Among those sidelined were stars Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, so the team that Philadelphia previously faced was a different group than what it saw Thursday.
Butler was questionable heading into Thursday with an eye injury, but he was seeing just fine from tip-off.
By the end of the first quarter, he led all scorers with 16 points on perfect shooting (five-of-five from the field, including three-of-three from the line).
In addition to being the lift that the Heat needed to get on top of Philadelphia early, his performance was also historic:
Udonis Haslem made his season debut, but it ended after three minutes when he was ejected for shoving Dwight Howard—who later earned his 16th technical foul of the season and is expected to be suspended for Friday's game against Orlando.
He did manage to log four points on two-of-two shooting with a rebound before he was tossed.
Butler was quieted in the second quarter and didn't score, but Tyler Herro stepped up off of the bench to post 14 total points by the break.
By the close of the third, Adebayo was the team's second-leading scorer with a double-double by way of 16 points and 10 rebounds, and was three assists shy of making that a triple-double.
He didn't quite get there, finishing at 18-12-8, but six different players poured on double-digit scoring to help the Heat secure the win.
Philadelphia Can't Climb Out of Early Deficit
The 76ers opened quickly with a 6-2 lead over the Heat, but they spiraled downhill from inside the 10 minute mark of the first quarter and didn't lead again. By the time there was 2:40 gone in the second frame, they fell into a 19-point hole.
Tobias Harris had 10 points, while Embiid was limited to four.
Things didn't get too much better after the half. Philadelphia trailed by 19 heading into the break, with 14 total points from Harris to lead the way. Ben Simmons was the second leading scorer for the team, with six points.
At the half, the 76ers were shooting just 37.5 percent from the field and a horrific two-of-10 from deep. Comparatively, Miami was hitting 57.5 percent of attempts and was 42.1 from beyond the arc.
Even more striking was the fact that Philadelphia was out-rebounded 27-12 in the half. Allowing Miami extra chances was the last thing that a failing 76ers squad needed.
Danny Green finally joined the show in the third quarter, finishing the frame with 11 total points. But the 76ers, who were being out-rebounded 34-22, still couldn't keep pace with a Heat team that had five players scoring in double-digits.
Defensively, the Heat were stepping up to stop the 76ers' attempts. Duncan Robinson led with a pair of blocks as the team combined for six.
Harris, Green and Milton were the only players to score double-digits, with Simmons and Seth Curry recording eight and Embiid limited to six, ending the night getting out-rebounded 47-30.
The 76ers started slow and just couldn't recover against a Heat team that came ready to avenge their earlier-season losses.
The 76ers will face the Orlando Magic on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.
Miami heads to face another top team in the East with an 8 p.m. ET tipoff against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.