NBA play-in dispatches: Heat beat Bulls with old-school basketball, Wolves bully Thunder

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FOX Sports writers provide takeaways throughout the NBA playoffs.

Here are his thoughts on Friday’s final play-in games, which finalized the playoff picture, as the Heat take on the Bucks and the Timberwolves take on the Nuggets.

Heat 102, Bulls 91: A throwback 90s win for Miami

It’s only fair that in an old-school battle of hard-nosed defense, scrambling for screens and scoring through contact, the team with the oldest player in the school has prevailed.

That would be Jimmy Butler, who scored a game-high 31 points without making a single 3-pointer to clinch the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot for the Miami Heat with a 102-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls. The Heat now enter a best-of-seven series against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, with Butler extending his streak of consecutive postseason appearances to seven for four different teams, the first for the 2016-17 Bulls.

Anyone nostalgic for how the NBA game was played back when it was Blackberry the telephone, the Macarena was the dance and “Friends” was the The TV show had to be downright misty-eyed.

Both teams made their share of 3-pointers, with the Heat’s Max Strus setting a game-high seven 3s to match Butler’s 31 points, but overall, both teams scored more from the painting that from beyond the arc. Charges were taken. Box-outs were frequent. They made a second and a third effort in defense. Fouls were committed instead of getting layups.

“This is good old-fashioned Eastern Conference basketball,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the television audience between the third and fourth quarters.

Butler’s multiple fouls around the rim played a big role in the Heat’s loss to the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks, and after a strong first quarter against the Bulls (nine points on four shots, the most long a six feet), failed six. of his eight following shots in the painting. Credit some of that to Bulls rebounder Alex Caruso, who had Butler on defensive duty for most of the night. But Butler made up for all of that down the stretch, scoring or assisting on five of the Heat’s last six baskets and making five of six free throws. This resulted in a final score that did not reflect how hard fought the game was.

The Bulls led 90-89 with less than 2 1/2 minutes to play, but were outscored 13-1 from that point. Butler’s burden was made heavier by Kyle Lowry lying on the floor next to the Heat bench, unable to play the final 10 minutes due to a knee injury that has plagued him all season.

Zach LaVine had a lot of help getting the Bulls to Miami, but he was also equally responsible for their season ending there. His 39 points were vital in Chicago’s 109-105 victory over the ninth-seeded Toronto Raptors in their first game of the season on Wednesday. But against the Heat he had more field goal attempts (21) than points made and his attempt to match Butler’s late heroics backfired. While Butler found his way to the paint and used his footwork and patience to create good looks or draw fouls, LaVine went 0-for-5 with a pair of contested 3s, a mid-range jumper outside of balance and two unsuccessful units, one of which Bam. Adebayo choked on the rim. Butler outscored him 13-1 over the final 12 minutes.

Both teams entered the season with much higher hopes than making the play-in tournament and both have plenty of offseason decisions to make. The Bulls just have the dubious pleasure of being the first to start that process.

– Rich Bucher

Timberwolves 120, Thunder 95: Minnesota gets it together at the right time

After a week filled with drama, the Minnesota Timberwolves persevered when it mattered most.

In a winner-take-all game for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, the Timberwolves defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, 120-95, to secure a first-round playoff berth against the Denver Nuggets , first seed.

Karl Anthony-Towns shined, leading all scorers with 28 points in 29 minutes on 11-for-16 shooting while finishing with 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Meanwhile, the Thunder’s stars crumbled under the pressure, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finishing with 22 points on 5-of-19 shooting (22.6 percent) and Josh Giddey adding just six points on 2-of-13 shooting (15, 4%).

It was an impressive win for the Timberwolves considering this is a quick recap of their last five days:

In their regular season finale against New Orleans on Sunday, Rudy Gobert threw a punch at teammate Kyle Anderson. And Jaden McDaniels threw a punch at a wall.

About 48 hours later, the eighth-seeded Timberwolves played the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in their first game without Gobert (suspension) and McDaniels (broken hand). They blew a 15-point lead in the third quarter to fall to the Lakers on Tuesday in overtime, 108-102.

The Timberwolves might have fractured. They could have been demoralized. But instead, they came together with their season on the line.

Against the Thunder, the Timberwolves broke open the game in the second half, turning a 10-point halftime lead (57-47) into a burst in which they led by as many as 29 points in the fourth quarter.

The Timberwolves were too big and strong for the Thunder, overwhelming a team known for its speed. Three Timberwolves players finished with double-digit rebounds, while no one on the Thunder grabbed more than eight boards.

It was a complete effort for the Timberwolves, with six players also finishing in double figures, including big performances from Gobert (21 points and 10 rebounds) and Edwards (19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists).

The Timberwolves have overcome a lot to make the playoffs.

But they know the road only gets tougher against a Nuggets team that finished the regular season with a 53-29 record, while the Timberwolves cruised into the postseason with a 42-40 record.

During his exit interview with ESPN, Towns didn’t downplay the challenge ahead.

“We must be prepared for wars,” he said.

—Melissa Rohlin

Saturday’s games:

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young-onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds”. He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @Rick Bucher.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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