Pelicans, Heat catch last bus

The Philippine Star
Pelicans, Heat catch last bus
Tyler Herro.
STAR / File

The Miami Heat shrugged off the absence of star forward Jimmy Butler to crush the Chicago Bulls 112-91 in their play-in eliminator on Friday and earn a clash with the top-seeded Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

In the Western Conference, the New Orleans Pelicans, also missing their key man with forward Zion Williamson out with a hamstring injury, beat the Sacramento Kings 105-98 to set up a first-round series with the number one seed Oklahoma City Thunder.

It is the second straight season that Miami have earned the eighth-seed spot via the play-in tournament and they will play the Celtics for the fourth time in the last five post-seasons.

Butler suffered a sprained MCL knee ligament in Wednesday’s defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers and faces several weeks out.

The 34-year-old has led the Heat to two NBA Finals, including last year’s run, which included an Eastern Conference Finals win over the Celtics.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had insisted that his team had the personnel to cope with the loss of their talisman and they illustrated that in a convincing home win.

Point guard Tyler Herro was the main man with 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, but he was well supported by rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. and veteran Kevin Love.

Jaquez put up 21 points with six rebounds and six assists, while Love, coming off the bench, made 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

The Heat were also without point guard Terry Rozier, who remains out with a neck injury, but they stormed out in the first quarter, putting up a 19-0 run and ending the opening period 34-17 up.

It was a lead they never relinquished.

Demar DeRozan top scored for the Bulls with 22 points, but Chicago never truly threatened to turn the game around in the second half.

Herro said he had set out to emulate Butler’s all-round contribution for Miami.

“There are a lot of people who try to determine the outcome of a game by how many points someone scores and I think Jimmy Butler does the opposite of that,” he said.

The Celtics, however, will start as strong favorites against Miami, with Boston notching a league-high 64 wins this season.

In the absence of Williamson, Brandon Ingram stepped up for the Pelicans, producing 24 points, six rebounds and six assists as New Orleans took command in the second quarter.

The home side led 54-45 at the half and never allowed the Kings to get within five points in the second half, with their bench players making significant contributions.

Larry Nance, Naji Marshall and Jose Alvarado all provided double figures off the bench as New Orleans made it 6-0 against Sacramento this season.

“We knew how important today was,” said Ingram.

“We knew where we wanted to be and where we belonged. It has been two years since we’ve been back in the playoffs and now we get another chance to go out there and continue to fight,” he said.

De’Aaron Fox top scored for Sacramento with 35 points, but it was another disappointing night for a team that went out in the first round last year to the Golden State Warriors.

Last year was the Kings’ first post-season appearance since 2006.

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