What stood out in Bulls’ Play-In win over Hawks: Coby White shines as Atlanta lacks firepower to keep up

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What stood out in Bulls’ Play-In win over Hawks: Coby White shines as Atlanta lacks firepower to keep up

The Chicago Bulls offense gave the Atlanta Hawks more than they could handle en route to a 131-116 Play-In Tournament win on Wednesday.

Coby White was a walking highlight reel of shooting, spinning and scoring as the Bulls guard finished with a career-high 42 points on 15-of-21 shooting. DeMar DeRozan added 22 points and nine assists in the victory to eliminate the Hawks and set up a win-or-go-home matchup against the Miami Heat on Friday.

Though White and DeRozan shined the brightest on the Bulls’ home court, center Nikola Vučević and Ayo Dosunmu got in on the offensive explosion with 24 and 19 points, respectively. Vucevic led Chicago with 12 total rebounds.

Chicago built an early 18-point lead in the first quarter but allowed Atlanta to score 45 second-quarter points and pull within six at halftime. White then slammed the door on the Hawks, scoring 25 of his game-high 42 points in the second half.

The Bulls once again were effective slowing down Hawks star Trae Young, limiting him to 22 points on 4-for-12 shooting along with 10 assists. The Hawks shot just 11-of-37 from 3-point range.

Dejounte Murray led Atlanta with 30 points while Clint Capela contributed 22 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.

What’s next for the Bulls?

A rematch of last year’s Play-in Tournament matchup with the Miami Heat, who lost at Philadelphia in the East’s 7-8 matchup. Chicago had a chance to capture the eighth seed last season but wilted in the final minutes at Miami. The Heat went on to the NBA Finals. Their postseason run gave the Bulls hope that if they remained competitive throughout the regular season they might also be able to assemble an unlikely march.

The injury news on Heat star Jimmy Butler, who could have sustained a sprained MCL in Miami’s loss to the Sixers, adds another reason for the Bulls to believe they can win on the road and sneak into the playoffs after climbing from the 10th place. — Darnell Mayberry, Bulls senior writer

What happened to Atlanta?

The Hawks made it a game for a half, but they ran out of players and, as ever, their defense wasn’t anywhere nearly good enough.

Without the services of Saddiq Bey, Jalen Johnson and Onyeka Okongwu, and with late-season rotation addition Vit Krejčí bizarrely not signed to the playoff roster, Atlanta was short-handed from the opening tip. Disastrous stints from bench units at the end of the first and third quarters helped move the game out of hand, including an odd cameo from little-used rookie Mouhamed Gueye.

With Young still limited by a left finger injury and De’Andre Hunter having his worst game of the season, the Hawks didn’t have enough firepower to offset their awful defense. Even after a momentary burst of luck when Bulls teammates Andre Drummond and Alex Caruso collided and knocked Caruso — by far Chicago’s best defender — out of the game, Atlanta didn’t have the juice to respond.

In the end, the league’s 27th-ranked defense gave up 131 points on 57 percent shooting to one of the league’s most vanilla offensive teams, a fitting capstone to an occasionally entertaining but ultimately unserious season. — John Hollinger, NBA senior writer

What’s next for the Hawks?

After a year of front-office paralysis where Murray trades (and others) were courted but never completed, the attention this offseason will likely turn to Young’s future.

The logic is simple: Atlanta’s guards don’t fit together, despite the multiple unprotected picks the Hawks sent out to get Murray to join forces with Young, and if they had an offer they liked for Murray they would have taken it by now. Look for Lakers rumors, especially, to heat up if L.A. can’t get past its first round series against Denver. The other thing Atlanta can’t do is tank, however, because of those same picks they gave the Spurs in the Murray deal.

The Hawks have other moves to ponder this offseason as well. Can they afford to keep paying both Capela and Okongwu, now that Okongwu is starting a four-year, $63 million extension? Is there enough money to bring back Saddiq Bey, a restricted free agent they acquired at the 2023 trade deadline? And can they nail the draft, one where they are likely to pick 10th and could also land a pick at 15th if Sacramento wins its play-in game with New Orleans on Friday?

Johnson, who had a breakout year that was the best story of an otherwise forgettable season, is likely due an extension ahead of his 2025 free agency, and the Hawks will also have to find more ways to get 2023 first-rounder Kobe Bufkin into the mix.

Hanging over this is an inexperienced, gun-shy front office and ownership that has been unwilling to pay into the luxury tax. The Hawks enter the summer an estimated $5 million from that line, depending on where their draft pick falls and if another one is coming from the Kings, and will have some hard decisions to make. — Hollinger

Required reading

(Photo: Jamie Sabau / Getty Images)