Jimmy Butler Outduels Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons as Heat Beat 76ers

Megan ArmstrongAnalyst IIIDecember 19, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 18: Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat and Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers look on during a game on December 18, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Dow/Getty Images

The Miami Heat rounded out their three-game road trip with a 108-104 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night.

Miami handed the Sixers their first home loss of the season in the process, notably doing so without Goran Dragic (groin) and Justise Winslow (back).

Joel Embiid returned to Philly's starting lineup after missing the team's 109-89 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday with an illness. The 25-year-old center led the 76ers in scoring with 22 points on 8-of-19 shooting.

The Sixers cut a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit down to two when Tobias Harris hit a three-pointer to make it 106-104 with 25.7 seconds remaining. Kendrick Nunn was fouled by Josh Richardson on the other end, and the rookie missed both of his free throws to keep hope alive in Philadelphia.

However, Al Horford missed what could have been the game-winning three with 4.8 seconds left. Bam Adebayo sealed the result for the Heat by rebounding Horford's miss and making his two free throws after Harris fouled him.

The 76ers first torched the Heat 113-86 on Nov. 23, also at Wells Fargo Center. This time around, Miami improved to 20-8 while Philly fell to 20-9.

Both squads are in the thick of chasing 24-4 Milwaukee atop the Eastern Conference.


Notable Stats

MIA G Kendrick Nunn: 26 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal

MIA C Bam Adebayo: 23 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks

MIA F Jimmy Butler: 14 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals

PHI C Joel Embiid: 22 points, 19 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks

PHI F Tobias Harris: 20 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists

PHI G Ben Simmons: 17 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 1 block


Butler, Heat Redeem Themselves in Second Trip to Philly

The Heat looked like they may be in for another blowout loss in Philly, trailing 29-19 at the end of the first quarter. On Nov. 23, the Sixers had led 28-13 at the end of the first quarter en route to running Miami out of Wells Fargo 113-86.

Sixers fans were ready to boo Butler regardless as he returned to Philly for the second time since maneuvering a four-team trade to land with the Heat this summer:

Dave Uram @MrUram

#Sixers fans letting Jimmy Butler hear it https://t.co/Adoelp78xW

The difference between the two meetings began to take form in the second quarter. Miami switched to a zone defense that all but eliminated Embiid offensively and ended the first half on a 27-7 run:

Miami HEAT @MiamiHEAT

Miami's 37-point 2nd quarter outburst was the team's 2nd highest scoring 2nd quarter of the season. (43 vs Cleveland) https://t.co/Dq87El886M

Derek Bodner @DerekBodnerNBA

Miami's in a zone about 4% of the time so far this season, according to Synergy. They've been in one for most of the first 6 minutes of the 2nd quarter so far tonight.

Dave Uram @MrUram

If you're missing 3 after 3 against a zone, that's exactly what the defense wants you to do

Miami outscored Philadelphia 37-19 in the second quarter and forced the 76ers to shoot 3-of-12 from deep. The Heat carried that approach through to the second half. The Sixers poked through occasionally in the third quarter and were able to get within one possession down the stretch in the fourth, but the zone mostly shut them down:

Keith Pompey @PompeyOnSixers

This zone is really providing problems for the #Sixers.

Embiid and head coach Brett Brown credited Miami's zone while meeting with reporters afterward:

Dave Uram @MrUram

Joel Embiid on why the #Sixers struggled against Miami’s zone https://t.co/MPc4xSO5M8

Dave Uram @MrUram

Brett Brown thought Miami’s zone affected the #Sixers spirit https://t.co/LcZwCSc46M

Offensively for the Heat, Adebayo and Nunn carried the load:


🔥 @nunnbetter_ (26 PTS) & @Bam1of1 (23 PTS) help the @MiamiHEAT become the first road team to win in Philadelphia this season! #HEATTwitter https://t.co/1p2LYkqjF0

Butler still got his against his former teammates, though, in what was a modest outing:


A series of fakes and the fall-away jumper for Jimmy Buckets! #PhantomCam @MiamiHEAT 82 @sixers 74 4th quarter NEXT on ESPN https://t.co/wH4n40PW1m

Ultimately, fans decided to boo the Sixers instead of Butler:

Keith Pompey @PompeyOnSixers

#Sixers down 96-80 and the boos are louder.

While Butler only spent 67 games (including playoffs) in Philadelphia before departing, it seems it will be a major storyline every time he plays against the 76ers this season (and probably beyond). However, the more important thread to follow will be how the Heat and Sixers continue to match up as this season progresses as two viable contenders in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat have gotten off to the most surprising start in the league so far, surging into the second tier of title contenders below the likes of Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers, but this was a statement that their hot beginning isn't ending any time soon.

Will Manso @WillManso

The Heat are 20-8, handed the Bucks and Sixers their first home losses, haven’t lost consecutive games and have done it with short rotations because of players out. I’d say this team is legit.


Sixers See Perfect Home Record Spoiled

Philadelphia is now 14-1 at home—the last team in the league to lose at home this season—and tied with the Clippers for the best home record in the NBA.

One home loss in an 82-game season is hardly anything to be concerned about, but what will hurt is that the Sixers came close to staying undefeated.

The result was nearly swayed in the Sixers' favor when Coach Brown challenged a shooting foul by Embiid on Butler with 33.9 seconds left in the fourth and the Heat's lead dwindled down to 104-101. The referees upheld their call, costing Philly its final timeout and allowing Butler to make it a two-possession game.

This loss can't be assigned to that one call, though, as the Heat firmly had the 76ers' number for large stretches at a time throughout the contest.

The Sixers experienced a literal heat check before the Bucks visit on Christmas Day. Philadelphia has yet to face the Bucks this season, and Milwaukee will be the best opponent.


What's Next?

Both the Heat and Sixers return to action Friday night.

Miami will host the 7-21 New York Knicks, and Philadelphia will remain home with the 18-8 Dallas Mavericks paying a visit.