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Butler-less Heat batter Bulls 112-91 behind a Herro takeover, with Celtics challenge up next

MIAMI – Immediate challenge conquered.

Greater challenge ahead.

Pushing past the Chicago Bulls a day after learning team leader Jimmy Butler would be lost for weeks with a knee injury, the reward for the Miami Heat for Friday night’s 112-91 win-or-go-home play-in victory is a first-round matchup against the league-best Boston Celtics.

On a night offense was a struggle at times for both teams, the Heat turned up the defense to essentially salvage their season.

Something more, far more, will be required against the Celtics, with that best-of-seven series opening Sunday at 1 p.m. at TD Garden.

“I feel like we’re better when our backs are against the wall,” guard Tyler Herro said.

Boston has been idle since closing their regular season a league-best 64-18 last Sunday, 18 games ahead of the Heat in the Eastern Conference standings.

It will be the fourth playoff meeting in the past five seasons, including in the Eastern Conference finals the last two years, with the Heat winning such a matchup last season.

The difference is that the Celtics enter whole, with the Heat not only lacking Butler, but also have been without former Celtics guard Terry Rozier the past six games due to neck spasms,

The Heat also entered the best-of-seven opening round last season as the No. 8 seed, taking down the top-seeded Milaukee Bucks on way to the NBA Finals.

“We had to do it the hard way just to get this first ticket punched for the invocation to this dance,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Friday night’s win. “And then we’ll figure out this next thing.”

Herro seized control of the Heat offense in the absences of Butler and Rozier, closing with 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, including several moments of spectacular offense.

The Heat also got 21 points from rookie guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., who started in place of Butler, and 16 from backup center Kevin Love, whose effort offset an uneven 13-point offensive night from starting center Bam Adebayo.

DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 22 points.

Five Degrees of Heat from Friday night’s play-in game:

1. Game flow: With a 19-0 first-quarter run, the Heat went up 19 in the first period and led 34-17 going into the second. The lead then grew to 20 before the Heat took a 47-37 advantage into halftime.

From there, the Bulls trimmed the Heat lead to seven early in the third quarter, before Herro’s offense and stout team defense got the Heat back up 82-60 going into the fourth quarter.

Friday marked the second consecutive year the Heat have taken such a winner-take-all game against the Bulls at the end of the play-in round at Kaseya Center.

Last year the Heat followed up a loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in with a comeback victory over Chicago. This time, the Heat play on after losing their play-in opener Wednesday on the road to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Spoelstra said the Heat quickly turned the page after that loss in Philadelphia.

“What we talked about this morning was, ‘Forget about how we got here,’ ” Spoelstra said. “We have guys that want those moments with the feeling that you have going into it. And we have a bunch of Type-A competitors.”

2. Herro ball: Herro was halfway to a triple-double when he checked out late in the first period, already up to six points, six rebounds and five assists.

He then returned to spark a stagnant offense with a 3-pointer with 3:40 left in the second period for a 45-31 lead, after a Heat 20-point lead had been trimmed to 11.

From there, he produced the play of the night, when he tracked down a loose ball at full speed inside the Heat lane in the third quarter, threw a bullet, high-speed, behind-the-back pass to Caleb Martin on the left wing for a 3-pointer.

He followed that up shortly thereafter by capping a wild run of turnovers by both teams with a transition 3-pointer.

All of that had him closing one assist shy of a triple-double.

“Obviously with Jimmy out, we’re playing a little bit different now,” Herro said. “I feel like I’m going to have my opportunities.”

Including the play to Martin.

“That was lucky,” Herro said with a smile.

As for missing out on the triple-double by sitting late, he said, “There’s a lot of opportunities ahead of us.”

3. Bold stroke: With Butler out, Spoelstra threw an immediate twist at the Bulls, opening with Adebayo defending DeRozan.

Spoelstra was afforded that luxury with the Heat’s lineup reconstruct, with Nikola Jovic available to match his 6-foot-10 size against Bulls center Nikola Vucevic.

So without Butler, who typically takes the assignment, Butler stepped up against DeRozan.

“It’s another day in the office,” Adebayo said of the assignment. “Obviously your coach trusts me to defend their star player speaks a lot of what you can do for your team.”
Adebayo was aggressive from the outset against DeRozan, setting the Heat’s defensive tone.

“He’s absolutely incredible,” Jaquez said of Adebayo’s defensive effort. “His presence is felt.

“Bam’s absolutely incredible. That’s inspiring to us.”

The Heat’s overall defensive tenacity also included stout efforts on that end from  Delon Wright and Haywood Highsmith.

“What Delon and H are  doing,:” Spoelstra said, “they’re so much fun to watch. They’re dynamic defensively. They do all the dirty work and they kind of inspire everybody.”

4. Robinson back: Duncan Robinson was back in the Heat mix after missing the previous five games with a back issue listed as left facet syndrome.

Robinson had been listed as available for Wednesday night’s loss in Philadelphia but did not enter.

He went into Friday having missed 10 of the previous 15 games.

He was off with his first two shots, a pair of 3-point attempts, before converting a pair of 3-pointers early in the second period.

He closed with eight points on 3-of-6 shooting 12 minutes.

“I think this last week or so has been really important for him,” Spoelstra said. “He’s been making progress.

“I notice all the overreactions he creates. Our offense just looks different when he creates a trigger, and that will be important in our next series.”

5. What’s next: The Heat now move on to their series against the Celtics:

Game 1: Sunday, at Boston, 1 p.m., ABC.

Game 2: Wednesday, at Boston,  7 p.m., TNT

Game 3: Sat. April 27, at Miami, 6 p.m., TNT

Game 4: Mon. April 29, at Miami,  Time and TV TBD

Game 5*: Wed, May 1, at Boston, Time and TV TBD

Game 6*: Fri. May 3, at Miami, Time and TV TBD

Game 7*: Sun. May 5, at Boston, Time and TV TBD

* – If necessary.

(All games also on Bally Sports Sun, except those on ABC, such as Sunday.)

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