After a slow start in Memphis, the Bulls rebounded to claim their first win of the season on the back of big games by Zach Lavine & the rookie Coby White. White played the last 19 minutes of the game and scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them - Isaiah 11:6
Coby White, the Bulls imperturbable rookie, is humble while confident and likes to thank a greater authority for his success. "God, he's blessing me with a gift, and I feel like I'm using it the right way," White was saying late Friday night in the visitor's dressing room in Memphis where it turned out a young man was leading the Bulls.
"I wasn't taking him out tonight," smiled Bulls coach Jim Boylen.
Because the assured and assertive rookie scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half to help rally the Bulls from a double digit third quarter deficit and a potentially disastrous start to a hopeful season with a 110-102 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. Zach LaVine was the only other Bulls player to score in double figures with 37 points in a dazzling all around game with six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Kris Dunn contributed another excellent defensive effort with three steals and Tomas Satoransky swiped four balls, the biggest from prized rookie Ja Morant with a minute left and the Bulls hanging onto a 104-101 lead after trailing by six with six minutes left in the game. This time, unlike in Charlotte Wednesday, it was the Bulls tougher, more physical and poised in the last minutes to save the victory. Satoransky converted four pressure free throws in the last 75 seconds.
"Sato has ice in his veins," said White
Though perhaps not the icebergs that White might possess considering it was the precocious rookie with Lauri Markkanen missing nine of 10 threes and Otto Porter Jr. dragging whom the Bulls turned their desperate eyes to when trailing 79-70 late in the third quarter.
White made the pass of the season — even if because his shot attempt was headed off — with a behind the back to Kris Dunn for a layup. Then White scored on a pair of driving layups and a three to bring the Bulls within a basket going into the fourth quarter. It was the critical sequence of the game.
Coby with the behind-the-back assist!
"The last person I played with who is very much capable of what he is doing was Jrue Holiday," marveled veteran Thaddeus Young. "He ended up starting for us and look at what Jrue is doing now. We know he can score the basketball and is a tough competitor and he stays poised in the moment. He's a natural scorer. He can shoot the ball, get to the rim, make floaters. When you have a scoring punch like that coming off the bench, it's what we need."
Sure, it was just the second game, but the Bulls were anxious and hopeful for a fast start to the season with a schedule against mostly lesser opponents. The loss in Charlotte with a blown 10-point lead in the fourth quarter was disturbing. Yet another to a team regarded perhaps lesser than Charlotte would be demoralizing.
"We had to (get this game)," agreed LaVine. "I was confident we were going to come back, but we were going to have to do whatever we had to do to win and I was going to go out there and do whatever I had to do to make sure we got the win."
It was not unexpected from LaVine following a sloppy opener after which he admitted to being overanxious. LaVine carried the Bulls with 20 first half points. But there were disconcerting signs in trailing 29-25 after one quarter and 60-47 at halftime. The taller Grizzlies led by Jaren Jackson Jr. with 23 points and 11 rebounds were dominating the Bulls inside with 32 paint points in the half while the Bulls perimeter shooting remained poor, this time 12 for 42 on threes after opening nine for 30. Markkanen is two for 17 overall from three.
A rookie to the rescue?
Boylen said he couldn't recall such a circumstance from a rookie coming off the bench so early in the season. The Bulls are optimistic about White, but Satoransky and Dunn generally are considered ahead of him at point guard. The point guard position, however, isn't what it once was in the NBA with many like Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard playing offense first. White wears that suit comfortably.
He's tirelessly unselfish, perhaps other than with the ball. Which is proving exactly what the Bulls need from White. He's been playing with a group that includes defenders like Dunn and Young. But against the Grizzlies the Bulls needed all of White.
He was the only Bulls player to play the entire fourth quarter, scoring six of the Bulls first eight points and then tag teaming with LaVine down the stretch as they scored all the team's field goals the last five minutes after a Jae Crowder three gave Memphis a 94-90 lead. Markkanen got the last basket when Satoransky blocked Morant with 9.6 seconds left and Markkanen dunked on the fast break to end the game.
"He's really quick, explosive," LaVine said charitably about the much more publicized Morant, who had a poor game with five assists and four turnovers. "You can see why he's so highly touted. But like I said, we've got a bad dude over here, too."
White and Morant were only matched up occasionally with White playing more of a scoring role in his Bulls rotation.
"I had no awareness," White said about any potential matchup with the point guard so much more sought after in the recent draft. "We're past the draft. At this point, we're just trying to compete every night, both of us. That's all that matters is winning games now. All those individual matchups, all that goes out the window."
Morant is fast and does look to pass first, though the Bulls anticipated well and often flooded the passing lanes to thwart him. Though the Grizzlies took advantage of playing a smaller Bulls team, the Bulls defensive play increased notably from the first game with more active play on the ball and in passing lanes. The Grizzlies did have a 56-45 rebounding edge and the Bulls had just 18 assists as they resorted to much more individual play with LaVine and White. It was needed.
White is self-effacing in interviews and apparently just as much with veteran teammates. Boylen and Young said White is always asking questions and anxious for advice.
"He's confident; he's a baller," says Boylen. "He just plays. He recognizes situations, he talks to me during the game. He has positive things to say, he has suggestions on what we are doing, which is really cool for a young guy in the appropriate way."
Except, of course, when he has the ball. Then it seems more like confidence transpiring arrogance for White, more self assurance than self regard.
Coby White's 25 points against the Grizzlies
"He likes the moment," said LaVine, who is someone who knows. "You can see it in his eyes. He wants that. That's something I can respect; you want those types of people out there in a fight."
It was once again a battle for the Bulls with another staggering start after a similar lethargy to open in Charlotte. Perhaps with both games home openers the Bulls were more entranced by the pregame festivities. LaVine was smoking, as you knew he would be after being extinguished to begin in Charlotte. The Bulls defense was loose early again, and Porter was a step behind. Boylen indicated he could rest Porter for the second of the back to back to open at home Saturday against Toronto.
"Came in at halftime a little frustrated," Boylen acknowledged about the team. "Similar feel to what we had the other night and then we came out and I thought we pulled together. I thought we gritted our teeth. I think they shot 34, 35 percent in the second half (34.7). We executed down the stretch. I thought we learned some lessons in the fourth quarter from the other night."
Though perhaps not if Boylen hadn't played the rookie in his second professional game the last 19 and a half minutes straight as White led the team in field goal attempts and threes made and attempted in the second half.
"It was a team win," said White. "I was just one little piece of it. I was just doing whatever I can to provide whatever spark I could. I just try to play as hard as I can and control what I can control; tonight a couple of shots fell for me and at the end of the day the big thing was we got the win.
"I guess I got it going a little bit," White offered.
He's slow to start talking about himself, but quick to get to the basket, including one drive practically putting a backpedaling Morant into the basket.
"The third quarter kind of gave me some life," said White. "Good to see it fall. At the end of the day, just trying to do what I can to help my team win. Like I always say, I have high expectations for myself. I always feel I can play better. Tonight I felt I could have played better. I had a slow first half. I want to be good in this league, so that's what it's going to take. We're a team. I didn't go on a run; we went on a run. So everyone is excited because our team is on the run."
White is always cooperative with reporters, though not particularly emotional or animated. He speaks directly and forcefully.
But he finally gave up a smile when he was asked with the team stumbling and uncertain in that crucial late third quarter stretch whether was it inappropriate for a rookie in his second NBA game to be taking those shots.
"Nah," White laughed with his eyes brightening. "If I feel it's a good shot for me I'll take it. I feel I don't lack in that aspect of the game."