White scores 42 as Bulls roll to play-in victory over Atlanta

Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan, left, and Atlanta Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanovic reach for the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game in Chicago, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) AP

It was all fun and games at the United Center late Wednesday when the Bulls and Atlanta Hawks battled to extend their season.

The Bulls showed up ready to play and an energetic crowd packed the arena to watch Coby White pile up a career-high 42 points as the Bulls rolled past the Hawks 131-116.

White hit 15 of 21 shots from the field, adding 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Nikola Vucevic scored 24 points, DeMar DeRozan 22 and Ayo Dosunmu 19.

“I didn't come into the game saying I was going to put the team (on his back) or whatever, but I just wanted to be aggressive and take what the defense gave me,” White said.

Chicago Bulls guard Coby White drives to the basket as Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela defends during the second half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game in Chicago, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. The Bulls won 131-116. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) AP

Technically, this doesn't count as his career-high, since it was a play-in game. But it still happened, and fans chanted White's name during the fourth quarter.

“It was a dope moment,” he said. “I'm thankful for the fans. It felt like a playoff vibe, the place was rocking tonight. I'm definitely counting it as my career-high. It's on the stat sheet right here.”

The Hawks aren't known for their defense, but White scored in every way possible, using a series of athletic drives and spin moves to knife through the defense. He was relatively quiet from 3-point range, but drained a 30-footer midway through the fourth quarter to tie his career high of 37 points.

For the second year in a row, the Bulls will travel to Miami for a chance to gain the No. 8 seed. Last year, they led the Heat with about three minutes left, then were outplayed down the stretch.

The winner of Friday's contest will be the East's No. 8 seed and open against the Celtics on Sunday night in Boston. Heat star Jimmy Butler suffered a knee injury in Wednesday's other play-in game, a Miami loss to Philadelphia, and may not be available.

A concern for the Bulls is the health of Alex Caruso, who left the game with an injury early in the second quarter after a collision with Andre Drummond on the way down the court. Caruso returned to the court a few minutes later, then started the third quarter, but left after two minutes and did not return.

An ESPN report suggested Caruso has a significant right foot sprain.

“I don't know if it's the toe or the ankle,” coach Billy Donovan said. “To close the second quarter, he said to me, ‘I'm going to try to go here, I'll let you know.' I thought he was a little bit hobbled. I just didn't like the way he was moving (in the third quarter). I took him off, he didn't ask to come out.”

Winning the Nos. 9 versus 10 play-in game is harmless, but there would be a penalty if the Bulls made the playoffs.

As it stands today, the Bulls have the No. 11 pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. And no, they don't have to send it to Orlando. The Vucevic trade is over.

They don't owe the pick to San Antonio, either, at least not until next year.

But if the Bulls win twice this week, they would officially become a playoff team. Not only would they have very little chance of beating Boston, which finished the regular season seven games better than any other team in the league; but their draft pick would fall to No. 15.

Wednesday began with concern over the health of Dosunmu (quad bruise) and Drummond (ankle sprain), who both missed the final week of the regular season.

Astute Bulls fans might remember Drummond starting in place of an injured Vucevic against Atlanta on Dec. 26 and piling up 24 points and 25 rebounds.

Dosunmu, meanwhile, averaged 21.0 points against the Hawks this season and has a history of making things tough defensively on all-star guard Trae Young.

Dosunmu was in the starting lineup against the Hawks and seemed to be moving full speed. He didn't hesitate to attack the basket whenever he saw a path.

Drummond was limited to 11 minutes and his contributions were minor, but he's had a short recovery from what looked like a fairly bad ankle sprain against the Knicks last Tuesday.

The Bulls got off to a great start, jumping to a 40-22 lead after one quarter, while Atlanta turned it up in the second and closed within 73-67 at halftime.

Atlanta was still within 3 in the third quarter when the Bulls did everything right for about four minutes and went on a 17-2 run to put the game away.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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