Chicago Bulls rout Atlanta Hawks 131-116 behind Coby White’s 42 points, keeping alive their hopes for an NBA playoff berth

For the second consecutive season, the Chicago Bulls will face the Miami Heat with a chance to advance to the NBA playoffs.

The Bulls on Wednesday advanced to the second round of the NBA Play-In Tournament, cruising to a 131-116 victory against the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center. They will face the Heat at 6 p.m. Friday in Miami with the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs on the line.

Coby White delivered a decisive performance after a breakout regular season, totaling 42 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and zero turnovers. It was White’s highest-scoring night in an NBA game, though play-in tournament statistics don’t count as official career highs.

Nikola Vučević supported White with 24 points and 12 rebounds, and DeMar DeRozan added 22 points and nine assists.

Despite missing the final week of the season and being questionable as of Wednesday morning, Ayo Dosunmu (bruised right quadriceps) and Andre Drummond (sprained left ankle) played against the Hawks. Dosunmu played a key defensive role in holding Trae Young to 4-for-12 shooting and also scored 19 points. Drummond played only 11 minutes but had four rebounds and three blocks.

The Bulls toyed with a lead throughout the first half but flipped a switch in the third quarter, ripping off an 18-2 run highlighted by acrobatic moves to the basket from Dosunmu and White and a thunderous dunk from Javonte Green.

They will face the Heat in a rematch of last year’s play-in tournament game to determine which team advances to face the top-seeded Boston Celtics. The Heat could be without star Jimmy Butler, who might have suffered an MCL injury in his right knee during Wednesday’s 105-104 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, according to The Athletic.

The Bulls could be managing an absence of their own after guard Alex Caruso suffered a sprained left ankle Wednesday.

If the Bulls win in Miami, they would face the Celtics in the series opener in a Sunday matinee (noon, ABC-7). It would be their first trip to the playoffs since 2022, when they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 4-1 in a first-round series.

For close to a minute Wednesday, it was nearly impossible to hear anything else but the crowd’s rhythmic chant of White’s name.

Bulls fans packed the United Center for the first home play-in tournament game in franchise history. The tournament brings a touch of desperation to the postseason — a single-elimination opportunity for teams on the bubble of playoff contention to squeeze their way into the first round.

Photos: Chicago Bulls beat Atlanta Hawks 131-116 in NBA Play-In Tournament

But there was nothing desperate about the best night of White’s career. The guard tore full-court in transition, pirouetted between defenders, whipped passes out wide to the waiting hands of his teammates. The Bulls needed a standout night from their breakout player — and he delivered with near abandon.

While technically those 42 points won’t count as White’s career high, he doesn’t care.

“It’s on the stat sheet right here,” White said after the game, tapping the piece of paper on the table in front of him.

That was enough for White. He plans to count the 42 points as his personal high.

“He set the tone getting downhill,” coach Billy Donovan said. “He made a lot of really good passes. I know that 42 is a huge number and it’s phenomenal, but I thought he played a really complete game. He defended, he assisted, he got downhill. He made the game easy for the guys.”

White provided one half of a crucial one-two punch for the Bulls, who outscored the Hawks 72-44 in the paint. The other half was provided by Dosunmu, who keyed in defensively on Young.

Related Articles

One day before, Dosunmu couldn’t sprint. He missed the final four games of the regular season after taking a knee to the thigh on the road against the Orlando Magic, suffering a deep bruise that limited his mobility.

Dosunmu scrimmaged lightly for two minutes Tuesday morning but did not have the opportunity to practice before starting Wednesday. His discomfort remained throughout the game, visibly affecting his finishing at the rim, but that didn’t slow his production on either end of the court.

“There was a little discomfort trying to get to my top speed,” Dosunmu said. “But talking to the doctors and training staff, they said that’s what happens when you get a certain type of injury like I have in my quad. I just keep having faith and trying to pick my spots when to accelerate. At this point of the season, your body’s supposed to be banged up.”

White’s and Dosunmu’s game plan was visibly simple: Attack the paint. Don’t give the Hawks room to breathe.

The Hawks had the personnel to outshoot the Bulls from deep, but perimeter pressure kept them from sinking into their comfort zone. The Bulls matched the Hawks in perimeter shooting by going 11-for-26 despite taking 11 fewer shots behind the arc. Young finished minus-27, the worst of any player on the court, and went 3-for-8 from 3-point range.