This was a matchup that both teams had circled on the calendar. For the Sixers, it marked the return of Jimmy Butler who left Philly in the offseason when he signed with the Miami Heat. For the Heat, they wanted to prove that Butler was better off in Miami and that the Heat are playoff contenders. Some more storylines that didn’t make the front page was the possibility of a ‘revenge game’ for Sixers shooting guard Josh Richardson who came to Philly from Miami in Butler’s sign-and-trade deal. Also, the Heat were riding the high of a five-game win streak and the Sixers wanted to extend their undefeated home-game streak to seven. Lastly, both teams were playing the second game of a back-to-back, with Miami getting a 116-108 win over Chicago on the road and Philadelphia getting a 115-104 over the Spurs at home. Coming into this game the Heat sat at third in the Eastern Conference at 11-3 and the Sixer sat at fifth with an 11-4 record. So with all that being said, this was a matchup that I just could not miss. As soon as I knew that I would be back home in Philly for this game, I knew I had to go.
Personally, I feel no bad blood towards Jimmy Butler. He was a great addition on offense last season and definitely contributed to the Sixers playoff run last year. However, I just didn’t feel that he was a great fit here. There have been tons of rumors surrounding Butler his whole career of him not being the best teammate and some have even gone on to say that he creates a ‘toxic’ locker room. I wouldn’t go that far, again I just don’t think he was a great fit. Jimmy made it clear he wanted to be the leader and the face of a team. And with the presence of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons on the Sixers, that just wasn’t going to happen. With all of that being said, I wasn’t going to welcome him back with open arms either. How I look at it was, he was here and overall played well, he helped the team push through the playoffs, they didn’t win a title and that’s it. If it was a Kawhi Leonard type of situation and he left after bringing a championship to the city, it would be different. If you follow professional basketball to any extent, you’re aware of how Butler was welcomed back to Philly. And if you don’t follow professional basketball spoiler alert: it wasn’t great.
This game also coincidentally happened to be the Sixers’ 100th consecutive sellout game, putting Philadelphia first in attendance this season and last season, so Jimmy had a full house ready for his return. During pregame introductions, I waited in anticipation of the crowd reaction to Butler’s name being announced. No surprise, he was greeted with overwhelming boos that were loud enough to drown out the announcement of the next player. That gave a pretty clear indication of how this night was going to go. Surely he wouldn’t get booed every single time he had the ball right?
The crowd became a factor early on with the Heat being forced to call a time-out just under four minutes into the game after the Sixers jumped out to an early 11-2 lead. This early scoring run had the whole arena (myself included) cheering to almost deafening levels. Butler would get the first bucket for the Heat after the time-out for his first points of the game, but that would be followed a missed three-pointer which would only continue to ramp up the crowd. The Sixers had already made a statement at the end of the first quarter with a 28-13 lead. This domination would only continue to snowball and become too much for the Heat to handle. Josh Richardson would continue to show off his hot hand with a 3-point shot at 8.1 seconds to go in the second quarter to give the Sixers a 55-35 lead at the end of the first half. The third quarter was the highest-scoring quarter for the Sixers with 37 points, and at the end of this quarter was when the Heat waved the white flag and began subbing in their reserves. To add salt to the wound, the Sixers would get their largest lead of the night at 41 points in the fourth quarter thanks to another 3-pointer by Richardson to make the score 100-59. The Sixers stuck to their bench in an uneventful fourth quarter and they easily improved to 11-5 in a statement win.
The stat sheet for this game is very telling, no matter where you look. You could look at Richardson’s dominant offensive night with 11-15 overall shooting and 6-7 from three. You could look at Ben Simmons’ incredible defense on Butler that made Simmons a +35 on the court (despite having only 4 points) and Butler a -31. You could look at the Sixers 48.3% team shooting from three, or the Heat’s 25% shooting from three. Sometimes stat sheets aren’t very telling of a team or individual performance, but this definitely was. But something you can’t see on the stat sheet is the way the Sixers control the court. The size advantage is clearly in Philadelphia’s favor, with 3 of 5 starters measuring in at 6’9 or taller, and the smallest of their starters being 6’5. This size difference was intentional when Elton Brand was building his team in the offseason, and witnessing this game in person, its effects were clearly obvious. The Heat were often struggling to get an open shot and were having to fight Philly’s massive defense on each end of the court. The Sixers showed that they are powerful and a true force on both offense and defense when firing on all cylinders. Not to mention the playoff atmosphere they’ve got rallying behind them. This team is dangerous and their slow start seems to be a thing of the past and their chemistry on and off the court is shining through.