'Inspiring' Bam, Heat handle Bulls, ready for Celtics 'dogfight'

Herro, Jaquez fuel Heat past Bulls, set up Celtics rematch (2:09)

Tyler Herro's near triple-double and Jaime Jaquez Jr.'s 21 points power the Heat to a blowout win over the Bulls. (2:09)

MIAMI -- The atypical 8-seed is back.

The Miami Heat, who last year ran through the Eastern Conference playoffs as the lowest seed, earned the eighth spot again after beating the Chicago Bulls, the same team they defeated to earn last season's final playoff berth.

The victory sets up a first-round clash with the 64-win Boston Celtics, whom the Heat beat in seven games in last year's Eastern Conference finals and the team they have faced in three of the past four conference finals.

Without Jimmy Butler, who injured his left knee in Miami's first play-in game and is expected to need several weeks to recover, the idea of a repeat run for the Heat seemed a stretch, at best.

But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra made a defensive decision before Friday's 112-91 defeat of Chicago that might have injected some hope back into this band of culture carriers.

Spoelstra gave his center, Bam Adebayo, the responsibility of guarding Chicago's leading scorer, DeMar DeRozan. The team captain responded with what he called "another day in the office," limiting DeRozan to 22 points and four assists.

More importantly, Spoelstra said Adebayo gave his team hope with Butler out. Hope in the game against Chicago and possibly extending to the series against the Celtics.

"What we needed, what we felt like, was inspiration," Spoelstra told ESPN. "And Bam was our most inspiring player, especially with Jimmy being out. The two of them are our most inspiring players. And they've always been. When they're locked in at their highest level competitively, we feel like we can beat anybody. With Jimmy out, I had to.

"We felt like DeRozan is a guy who can totally take over a game in a one-game deal. If our most inspiring player has to make an impact, it would be against their best scorer."

The major question entering Friday was how the Heat would make up for Butler's offense and steadying overall presence.

Butler's replacement in the starting lineup, rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr., helped alleviate that pressure, while Tyler Herro had a near triple-double with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists.

That left Adebayo able to concentrate on his defensive assignment. With Nikola Jovic, at 6-foot-10, capable of defending some centers, the Heat have the versatility to use Adebayo this way. Facing a Celtics team with a nontraditional center in Kristaps Porzingis in the first round, you can envision Adebayo taking on either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum in that best-of-seven series.

"I haven't even thought about that," Spoelstra said. "This was for this kind of deal, to set the tone for the game, to help alleviate any stress or pressure from anyone else in the locker room, Bam had to be that, which he was."

With Adebayo settling the Heat defensively, Miami's offense was able to run (20 fast-break points) and overcome 15 turnovers. Another pair of defensive weapons, reserves Haywood Highsmith and Delon Wright (four combined steals) complemented Adebayo well, helping keep the Bulls to 38% shooting.

Spoelstra using Adebayo to inspire worked to perfection.

"Bam's absolutely incredible," Jaquez said. "It just goes to show we have enough. That's inspiring to us as his teammates."

Given the 18-win difference between the Celtics and Heat this season, as well as Boston's 3-0 record against Miami, there shouldn't be much reason for Boston to fear the Butler-less Heat.

But those who watch Celtics games might still be a tad concerned. The Boston Globe sent a reporter to Miami to cover this play-in game despite the Heat not being considered a realistic threat to oust the Celtics this year.

If you listen to Adebayo, the difference between the No. 1 and No. 8 seeds won't be nearly as noticeable once the series begins this time either -- largely because of what he brings to the floor.

"It's going to be a dogfight," Adebayo said. "It's going to be a battle. It's going to be in the mud. It's not going to be pretty basketball. That's usually how it is when we play that team."