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Heat handle Bulls, earn playoff rematch with C’s ‘the hard way’

Heat handle Bulls, earn playoff rematch with C’s ‘the hard way’

MIAMI — The chants started raining down in the fourth quarter. “We want Boston,” the Miami Heat crowd kept shouting, over and over.

The fans got their wish. And a rematch of the past two Eastern Conference finals awaits in Round 1 this year.

Miami — even with Jimmy Butler sidelined for several weeks with a sprained knee — is back in the playoffs. Tyler Herro scored 24 points and was an assist shy of a triple-double, rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. added 21 points and the Heat grabbed the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs by beating the Chicago Bulls 112-91 in a play-in tournament elimination game Friday night.

“I have an appreciation for the things you can’t buy, the things that you have to earn,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We had to earn this. You can’t influence it. You can’t pay money for it. You actually have to collectively come together to earn it — and we had to do it the hard way, just to get this first ticket punched for the invitation to this dance.”

Kevin Love scored 16 and Bam Adebayo added 13 for Miami, which is set to be huge underdogs against a Celtics team that is the big favorite to win the NBA title. The Heat are the No. 8 seed again, just like last year when they survived the play-in and went all the way to the NBA Finals.

“Ultimately, we’ve just got to bring that Miami Heat culture and that toughness,” Jaquez said. “We’ve got two games in Boston. We’ve got to set the tone extremely early, impose our will on them and make it real physical.”

They took control over the Bulls with a 19-0 run in the first quarter, and a 14-0 surge midway through the second half ended all doubt. Herro finished with 10 rebounds and nine assists, and the Heat eliminated the Bulls in the last East play-in game for the second straight year.

DeMar DeRozan scored 22 points for the Bulls, who got 16 points, 14 rebounds and five assists from Nikola Vucevic. Coby White scored 13 for Chicago, which was trying to become the fifth team in the past 35 years to make the playoffs after not spending a single day all season over the .500 mark.

Chicago shot only 38%, with the Heat defense carrying the day.

“These games, they’re going to be like that,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s going to be ugly, grind out. Could we have been better in those areas? Probably. I wouldn’t say we were perfect. I thought our guys were trying to compete.”

The 19-0 run — which matched Miami’s longest run of consecutive points all season, done two other times — put the Heat on top, turning an 11-6 deficit into an early 25-11 lead. Jaquez and Nikola Jovic combined for 11 points in the burst, which fueled Miami taking a 17-point lead after one quarter and pushing it to 20 in the second quarter.

It was a rare stretch of decent offense on a gritty, gutty, win-or-go-home night.

The Heat managed only 13 points in the second and still went into the half with a 47-37 lead, because the Bulls were even colder from the field. Chicago started 4 for 5, then went 8 for 39 over the rest of the half. The Heat started 8 for 9, then finished the half by going 9 for 35.

This is how bad it was: Chicago missed 14 of 15 shots in one stretch, while Miami had spans of 0 for 8 and 0 for 6. But the Heat had the two big runs — and now are back as the No. 8 seed, the one they rode all the way to the NBA Finals last season.

It’ll be far more difficult this time against a Boston team that won an NBA-best 64 games this season and is likely still smarting from losing a Game 7 of last year’s East finals to the Heat at home.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be in the playoffs,” Spoelstra said. “I’m grateful for this locker room to have this opportunity. And I think they’re appreciative of it, as well.”


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