Spoelstra credits role players for Heat's win over Bulls to make playoffs

Chicago Bulls v Miami Heat - Play-In Tournament
Chicago Bulls v Miami Heat - Play-In Tournament / Rich Storry/GettyImages

The Miami Heat took down the Chicago Bulls 112-91 at home to punch in the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. There was dominance in South Beach on all levels of the floor. It started on the defensive end with and continued with success from beyond the arc for Miami. 

Tyler Herro led the Heat with a near triple-double, posting 24 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. Following the loss of Jimmy Butler, Miami needed a star to step up to the plate and act as a leader on the offensive end. While Butler is an incredible two-way star, Miami’s defense acts as a collective unit that can still thrive with him on the sideline. 

That unit was phenomenal on the defensive end against the Bulls. Head coach Erik Spoelstra schemed a masterful zone defense that made Chicago uncomfortable for much of the matchup. The Bulls ended the game shooting 30.2% from three and 38% from the field. Veteran forward Demar DeRozan led Chicago with 22 points and four assists. 

“We have a bunch of type-A competitors,” said Spoelstra. “I wanted them to embrace it, to enjoy it, to be grateful to have a game like that… These games are fun, the play-in games are fun.” 

Questions surrounding the ability to guard the Bulls backcourt, with speedsters that know how to get to the rim, were answered in the first half. Coby White came into the game fresh off a 42-point performance in Chicago’s first Play-In contest. With Spoelstra’s defensive strategy, White finished the game with 13 points, shooting 5-16 from the field. 

The defense started 94 feet away from Miami’s basket. Spoelstra mixed in a halfcourt zone with a switch from man press to a 1-2-2. He made sure to slow down the Bulls before they even got the ball in their hands. Players like White and Ayo Dosunmu work off momentum, even before they get the ball. Spoelstra put a wall in front of them, forcing Chicago into difficult three-point attempts late in the shot clock.

When Chicago was able to penetrate the paint, there was a trap blitz that awaited anyone on the block. This led to early turnovers for the Bulls and frustration in their halfcourt sets. Miami edged Chicago with 20 fastbreak points to the Bulls’ seven.

Their swarming defense helped secure a lead as large as 29 points. On two separate occasions, Miami had scoring runs of 14 or more points.

Miami’s role players had a tremendous night in maintaining consistency, out-scoring the Bulls 42-24 off the bench. Kevin Love knocked in 16 points, while Haywood Highsmith added three steals, and Delon Wright had quality minutes on both ends. Jaime Jaquez Jr. also jumped into a role similar to the one Butler plays for Miami and he excelled on every level. The rookie recorded 21 points, six assists and six rebounds. 

“I’m always feeling like our guys are going to go off and seize the moment,” said Spoelstra. “Not only Kevin, but what Delon and H [Highsmith] are doing, they’re so much fun to watch. I hope the basketball aficionados can really appreciate what they bring to the game.”  

There were positive points all sites of the hardwood for Miami. A performance like that will need to carry onto the first round of the playoffs as the Heat face the No. 1 Boston Celtics without Butler and Terry Rozier. Miami has a deep roster and experience, so time will tell how they fare with the juggernaut in Boston.