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Heat marches on with play-in win | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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 this year, a rematch of the last two Eastern Conference finals awaits in Round 1.

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

“I appreciate the things you can’t buy, the things 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 come together collectively to earn it – and we had to do it the hard way, just to get this first ticket beaten for the invitation to this dance.”

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

“At the end of the day, we just have to bring that Miami Heat culture and that toughness,” Jaquez said. “We have two games in Boston. We have to set the tone extremely early, impose our will on them and make it really physical.”

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

DeMar DeRozan scored 22 points for the Bulls, who got 16 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists from Nikola Vucevic. Coby White scored 13 for Chicago, which was trying to become the fifth team in the last 35 years to make the playoffs after not spending a single day above .500 all season.

Chicago shot just 38%, while the Heat Defense got the win.

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

The 19-0 run, which matched Miami’s longest consecutive point streak of the entire season, done two other times, put the Heat on top and turned an 11-6 deficit into an early 25-11 lead. Jaquez and Nikola Jovic combined to score 11 points in the burst, giving Miami a 17-point lead after one quarter and increasing it to 20 points in the second quarter.

It was a rare decent foul on a gritty, gutsy, win-or-go-home night.

The Heat scored just 13 points in the second and still went into halftime with a 47-37 lead, as the Bulls came off the field even colder. Chicago started 4 for 5 and then went 8 for 39 the rest of the half. The Heat started 8 for 9 and then ended the half with 9 for 35.

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

It will be much tougher this time against a Boston team that has 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 play in the playoffs,” Spoelstra said. “I’m grateful that this locker room has this opportunity. And I think they appreciate it too.”

photo Miami Heat guard Delon Wright (4) drives to the basket against Chicago Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu (12) during the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game, Friday, April 19, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
photo Chicago Bulls forward Torrey Craig (13) and Miami Heat forward Haywood Highsmith (24) battle for a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game, Friday, April 19, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
photo Miami Heat forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. (11) attempts a shot against Chicago Bulls guard Coby White (0) and center Nikola Vucevic during the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game, Friday, April 19, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
photo Miami Heat forward Kevin Love (42) drives to the basket against Chicago Bulls center Andre Drummond (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game, Friday, April 19, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
photo Miami Heat forward Kevin Love (42) avoids a block from Chicago Bulls guard Javonte Green (24) during the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game, Friday, April 19, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
photo Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic (9) takes on Miami Heat forward Nikola Jovic during the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game, Friday, April 19, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
photo Miami Heat forward Haywood Highsmith, second from left, attempts a shot against Chicago Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu (12), center Nikola Vucevic (9) and guard DeMar DeRozan (11) during the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game, Friday, April 19, 2024 in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)