Bulls fall to Kings, Coby White scores career-high 36 points

Coby White and Zach LaVine combined for 68 points as the Bulls were narrowly defeated by the Kings on Wednesday night.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

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Coby White dropped a career-high 36 points with zero turnovers in 40 minutes and Zach LaVine added 32 but a four-point play by Kings guard Kings propelled Sacramento to a 128-124 victory over Chicago.

Coby White is about lifting. He did all the heavy stuff he could Wednesday in Sacramento to lift the Bulls, but it wasn't quite enough despite a career high 36 points in the Bulls 128-124 loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Then the precocious baby Bull went to lift weights despite just finishing 40 rugged minutes on the road in the second night of a back to back set after he led the Bulls in scoring in Portland and added a career best 10 rebounds. Coby's game, to paraphrase Jackie Wilson, is lifting the Bulls higher and higher. So keep it up and who knows where it will help take this Bulls team.

"Lovin' it man, lovin' it," the lyrical Garrett Temple was saying afterward about the Bulls high scoring second year guard. "I was just lifting with him after the game. This guy plays 40 minutes tonight and after a back to back is lifting weights. I think the biggest thing with him tonight besides the scoring, he had zero turnovers in 40 minutes and with seven assists, so he wasn't shooting everything. He was sharing the ball, running this team, making timely baskets, big baskets; only shot nine threes, so he attacked the rim.

"He played really, really big for us tonight and we are going to continue to have to have him play big for us to win games," added Temple. "I can't say enough about him. His mentality, 10 rebounds last night so he's getting dirty. He fights on defense. Him and Zach put up 30-plus for us (32 for LaVine) and we still lost."

"But as long as we continue with the way we are playing, we are going to win more games than we are going to lose."

Garrett Temple

It doesn't seem like it's going to be the road trip to perdition many feared when the Bulls departed earlier this week.

The Bulls fell to 4-5 in another exciting game, this time with a disappointing result. But it was the comeback Bulls again, trailing by a dozen points in the second quarter, by nine in the third quarter and by six with three minutes left to a desperate and lately dysfunctional Kings team. But with the Kings getting a beguiling game from rookie Tyrese Haliburton with 15 of his 17 points and a trio of three pointers in the fourth quarter, it appeared the Kings had, at last briefly, sabotage their own demons of alleged trade demands and impolitic parents.

But then there was Coby, who is averaging 26.7 points the last three games as he seems to have shaken the shackles of indecision about his role, point guard, shooting guard, oh my God! Just play, baby.

Coby White scored 36 points on 15-of-23 shooting. He also added seven assists and three rebounds.

"Just trying to have little techniques around the rim instead of just trying to go straight through the big," explained White. "Put my eyes on it early. I think last year I kinda went in there and I wasn't really focused on the rim. I was more so trying to get a foul call. This year just being more focused on the rim earlier in the play."

And focusing on scoring when he had to, which is enabling he and LaVine to become the kind of guard duo of their destiny. Like Dame and CJ, whom they vanquished Tuesday, like Russ and Beal, whom they took care of last week. Who's next!

They didn't quite get there this time, but it looks close, very close.

Like the Bulls chances again even after the Kings seemed to assert final control with an offensive rebound and score for a 118-112 lead with three minutes left.

"One of the things that people talked about early on in the season and that was one thing that Billy (Donovan) talked about, that the team was not used to taking a hit and being able to bounce back," said Temple. "I think we've done a good job of making sure we bounce back even though we get down by double digits, whether it be on the road or at home. I think we've progressed."

Then came White.

There's been much debate regarding White. Whether he's a point guard who can direct a team or a scoring guard. Should he come off the bench as an electric sixth man? Should he replace LaVine as an eclectic talent? Is he the point guard? Pass, shoot?

Tell us, Billy.

"I told him this," said Donovan. "He got to this level because of what he can do scoring. If you ask him what he really wants to become, he'll tell you he wants to become a really good point guard. So there are going to have to be some things that he's going to have to go through a little bit. Now with Sato (Tomas Satoransky) being out and Zach at times being the backup and putting the ball in his hands, Coby has been great playing off the ball. He's always had a mentality of looking to score and be aggressive. I want him to be aggressive. He has every opportunity to do that. I think it's a work in progress."

Ah, the paradox of hoop: To score or not to score, at least until you see if someone else can.

It seems like White is progressing. But the Bulls needed points, so Coby eyed the rim with that late six-point deficit.

He dribbled the ball up court, hesitated briefly and then passed horizontally to Otto Porter Jr., who with three points seemed a step slow on the back to back. Porter took a quick dribble and threw directly back to White on top of the floor about 30 feet out. White brushed a screen from Thad Young, hesitated in what Donovan calls his "herky, jerky" offensive ways—if not janky—and drove past Rashaun Holmes for a lay-up and foul and three-point play. Back to a one possession game, as the broadcasters like to say.

"He's gotten back into being a lot more shifty, a lot of herky, jerkiness, a lot of hesitations, getting into the defense, mixing it up," noted Donovan.

The Bulls, however, couldn't stop the athletic Kings even with star point guard De'Aaron Fox out injured early in the game. Holmes, who was one of three Kings with at least 20 points, took a shovel pass from Harrison Barnes, who was driving in from the left wing. Holmes dunked. The Kings were also getting baskets frequently off the NBA's most popular play, the high pick and roll, with floaters and short jumpers. Donovan's "drop" defense philosophy has the center dropping back in the lane to form a zone effect to hinder layups. It was highly effective against Portland Tuesday, and somewhat against the Kings. Though the Bulls reacted poorly to second shots as the Kings got 12 offensive rebounds and were 14-8 on second chance points.

White was not deterred, however, with the Kings scoring temerity. How dare they!

White handed off to Young and took the pass back to shoot a three with the Bulls trailing 120-115 with 2:13 left. But Haliburton came out and with his long reach blocked the shot. Temple reacted well and got the ball and passed to Young. Meanwhile, White cleverly rotated to the open left corner and Young passed to him. White daringly drove for a layup to get the Bulls within 120-117 with 2:08 left.

No royal apocalypse this time for the Kings.

The Kings, however, did commit a turnover going inside and White came dribbling out of the backcourt. He was playing off the ball considerably during the game with LaVine sharing playmaking. But now White was directing the band of Bulls brothers. He got the ball to LaVine on top and LaVine drove for a reverse layup and was fouled, making both to get the Bulls within 120-119 with 1:34 remaining in the game. It appeared like the Bulls might steal this one, too.

The Bulls defense held, forcing Holmes into his first three-point attempt in two years. It went predictably awry, though no one was injured. LaVine dribbled up into almost the identical left wing three that won the Portland game with a minute left. Two point Bulls lead? It missed, though Donovan said he liked the shot.

"He got a clean look off," said Donovan. "I didn't want to call a timeout and let them set their defense. We got him kind of on the run and he got a little bit of space. I actually think the shot that he took last night, the one he made last night, was maybe tougher for him than tonight was. I feel good when he gets a clean look like that."

Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine scored 32 points on 13-of-24 shooting in the Wednesday night loss in Sacramento.

The Kings rebounded and then got the big play when Buddy Hield, who was having a miserable shooting game, made his third shot in his 15th attempt. It was a three with Temple trailing on defense and bumping him for a four-point play.

"You want to contest all the shots you can, but you never want to foul a three-point shooter," admitted Temple. "I take a lot of responsibility for that."

Hield made the free throw for a 124-119 Kings lead with 38.3 seconds left. The Bulls then inbounded to White, who bumped off Haliburton and drove for a score, White repeatedly taking contact at the basket and finishing, something only LaVine had been doing regularly. Still a chance: 124-121 Kings. But White then lost Haliburton, who wiggled into the left corner for a tough, fading three for the six-point Kings lead and game with 11.7 seconds left.

"He hit some big shots down the stretch, made some big plays," said White. "Everyone knows his IQ is off the charts. And he's proving to people that he can really shoot the ball at any level. So hat's off to him."

Also to Wendell Carter Jr., who had a career high 17 rebounds in one of the game's storylines. Carter was playing former Duke teammate Marvin Bagley, who had 21 points and 12 rebounds. It was Bagley who reclassified and chose Duke after Duke committed to Carter to be its top interior player. Oh yeah, never mind.

Then there was LaVine, who got his offer sheet the Bulls matched from the Kings. And White getting another look at a top guard with Fox, albeit briefly. Temple added 11 points and Denzel Valentine had 10 with the most unusual statistic. For the second game in a row even though he was scoreless in Portland, Valentine led the team with a plus-10 in the plus/minus rating, again more then double any other Bulls player. Patrick Williams had nine points after sitting out briefly with a possible concussion. He didn't have one. Just a headache for the Bulls.

The Bulls didn't quite have it to start as the Kings led 28-25 after one quarter even as Fox hurt his hamstring early and LaVine had a quick start with eight first quarter points. White added a dozen points in the second quarter as it became clear the guards would have to carry a somewhat fatigued Bulls team. Donovan had to quickly abandon his small center plan with Young when the Kings were quicker, taking a 44-32 lead. To Donovan's credit, he's quick to make in game adjustments and went more traditional with Carter when the Kings took advantage of the lack of basket protection. White was effective getting to the rim the other way and the Bulls got within 62-59 at halftime.

Denzel Valentine

Denzel Valentine chipped in 10 points off the bench, one of five Bulls in double-figures.

The Bulls tied it at 93 after three following a pair of early third Bagley threes for a 77-68 Kings lead.

"Resiliency," said Temple. "In Portland we were able to come back and get a win; tonight we weren't able to do that. I think more of that was on the Kings just making some tough plays, tough shots tonight rather than us not doing things. But it feels good to see that progress in us, making that run and punching people back in the face after getting hit."

White would have another dozen points in the fourth quarter. He's now averaging 26.7 the last three games and LaVine 29.7 in that stretch. LaVine had nine in the fourth for 21 of the team's 31 points. Just not quite enough this time despite White's career high.

"It's cool," said White, "but we didn't get the win. So it doesn't really matter to me. Me being the point guard just wanted to get the win really bad and you know that's what point guards are judged on, wins and losses. That's just how the game goes."

He's lifting up his game as well.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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