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Bulls knock Hawks out of play-in and advance to Heat

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

WHAT WOULD! WHAT WOULD! WHAT WOULD!

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, leading the Bulls to a win of 131-116 led. over the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. The game doesn’t officially count toward White’s regular season or playoff stats, but he didn’t want to hear it.

“It’s right here on the stat sheet,” White said with a smile as he pointed to the paper in his hand at a post-game 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 to Philadelphia 105-104 in the other play-in game on Wednesday.

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

“I vividly remember that flight back home, everyone was just frustrated,” Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan said after Wednesday’s game. ‘That feeling was terrible. I’m sure that was one thing I thought about when I realized we were moving back to Miami, so I wouldn’t have the same feeling.”

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

Heat star Jimmy Butler will get an MRI of his right knee on Thursday after suffering 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, who questioned his availability. 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 problem that had hampered him toward the end of the season.

“I’ll do that until I can’t do it anymore,” Caruso said about whether he expects to play Friday. “We’ll see in the next few days how it goes, but my mentality would be to play until my body says 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 came out, we were aggressive. We tried to make a statement early 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 went 3-0).

Dejounte Murray led Atlanta with 30 points and Trae Young, who missed 23 games late in the season with a torn ligament, had 22 points with 10 assists but committed six turnovers. Still, the Hawks mounted a comeback and 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 and scored or assisted 32 points immediately after those drives, also a career-high, according to Second Spectrum data.

“I support guys who work hard and are great people,” Murray said of White. “DeMar DeRozan is 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 look for guys in the area I think he’s always been good. He never really got the chance to show what he’s showing now, and the possibilities are endless.”

White said, “I’m just grateful to be where I am today. That first playoff series I ever had in my career didn’t go the way I wanted. And last year I played better in the playoffs.” 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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