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Bulls knock Hawks out of play-in, advance to face Heat

CHICAGO — After Coby White knocked down a deep 3-pointer to give the Chicago Bulls a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter Wednesday night, a sold-out United Center erupted in a booming cheer.


White finished with a career-high 42 points, the second-most by a player in a play-in game (Jayson Tatum had 50 in 2021) and his first career 40-point game, to lead the Bulls to a 131-116 win over the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. The game will not officially count toward White’s career regular-season or career playoff stats, but he didn’t want to hear it.

“It’s on the stat sheet right here,” White said with a smile as he pointed to the paper in his hand at a postgame news conference.

White’s performance helped the Bulls roll past the Hawks in Wednesday’s elimination game and into a rematch with the Miami Heat on Friday night for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and a first-round series with the Boston Celtics. Miami lost 105-104 to Philadelphia in the other play-in game Wednesday.

The Bulls can avenge their loss from the final 2023 play-in game, which was also in Miami. Chicago had a three-point lead with three minutes remaining before the Heat ended the game on a 15-1 run.

“I remember that plane ride back home vividly, everybody was just frustrated,” Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan said after Wednesday’s game. “That feeling sucked. I know for me that was one thing that was on my mind once I realized we were going back to Miami, not to have that same feeling.”

Chicago and Miami will have major injury questions heading into Friday’s matchup.

Heat star Jimmy Butler will receive an MRI on Thursday on his right knee after he suffered an injury during their play-in game on Wednesday. Sources confirmed to ESPN that the Heat fear Butler has an MCL injury.

The Bulls could be without guard Alex Caruso, who suffered a “significant” left ankle sprain, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, that has put his availability in doubt. Bulls center Andre Drummond stepped on Caruso’s right foot during the game, and Caruso said that while trying to catch himself he aggravated a left foot issue that had hampered him toward the end of the season.

“I do until I can’t,” Caruso said about whether he expects to play Friday. “We’ll see how it goes the next couple days, but my mindset would be to play until my body tells me I can’t.

The Bulls were in control of Wednesday’s game from the start, jumping out to a 40-22 after closing the first quarter on a 16-2 run.

“[Coby] led us tonight” said DeRozan, who finished with 22 points. “We talked before the game coming out, being aggressive. Trying to make a statement early on and not wait. That’s what we did.”

The Hawks dropped their final seven games of the season, and Wednesday’s loss marked their first play-in loss in franchise history (they entered 3-0).

Dejounte Murray led Atlanta with 30 points and Trae Young, who missed 23 games with a torn ligament late in the season, had 22 points with 10 assists, but he committed six turnovers. Still, the Hawks mounted a comeback to cut the lead to 88-85 in the third quarter, before Chicago responded with a 17-2 run.

White’s performance set the tone for the Bulls. He had a career-high 22 points in the paint, scoring or assisting 32 points directly off those drives, also a career-high, according to Second Spectrum data.

“I root for guys that work hard and are great people,” Murray said of White. “DeMar DeRozan’s a brother to me and he speaks highly of him. He says he works hard, he’s a great guy, he’s handled his business, he’s a professional on and off the floor. When I hear those things, I root for guys around the league just to have success. I think he’s always been good. He never really got the opportunity to showcase what he’s showcasing now, and the sky’s the limit.”

Said White: “I’m just grateful to be where I’m at. That first playoff series I ever had in my career didn’t go how I wanted it to go. And then last year, I played better in the play-in, but this year, I didn’t come into the game saying I was going to put the team [on my back]. I just wanted to be aggressive and take what the defense gave me and try to lead.”

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