Coby White and Zach LaVine stay hot but fall to Thunder

Coby White continued his hot streak scoring a career-high 35 points while Zach LaVine also erupted with 41 points but were unable to hold off Oklahoma City, losing 124-122.

The NBA didn't think Coby White was one of the 10 best rookies in the first part of the NBA season, the effective rating for the rookies who were selected for the All-Star weekend Rising Stars game. No, I'm not letting this one go easily. Coby White, who Tuesday had his second career high game in less than a week, may be the league's best rookie since then.

The Bulls Tuesday lost a thriller, 124-122 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, after coming back from a 24-point first half deficit to exchange leads 13 times in the fourth quarter with five ties before the Thunder escaped a late tag team scoring barrage from Zach LaVine with 41 points and White with 35.

"We can both score, but we're also unselfish and make the right play," said White, who had 10 in the fourth quarter after LaVine stunned the Thunder with 19 in the third. "I just think we're hard to guard as a team. Us two as a one-two punch, it's good for us as a team."

Chuck Swirsky with BullsTV recaps tonight's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Bulls are just 1-3 since the All-Star break and 20-39 overall with seven rotation players still out injured. It's possible one or two could return Saturday when the Bulls close February in New York. So it's been LaVine and White just about to the rescue as the duo is playing as well as any twosome in the NBA since the break.

Both are averaging 28 points with White posting his third consecutive game of at least 30 points and LaVine with his second game of at least 40 points in the last five. It's been historic franchise stuff with LaVine and White joining Hall of Famer Chet Walker and Bob Love, the latter one of four Bulls to have his number retired, as the only Bulls duos ever to score more than 30 points each in consecutive games.

LaVine matched Michael Jordan, Love and Reggie Theus for the most points in the first 60 games in franchise history. LaVine now has the third most games of at last 40 points in team history, and just four behind Love for second. With LaVine's sixth game of at least 40 points this season, only Jordan has more in a season in franchise history.

White continued to set rookie records, and certainly for someone the NBA didn't consider a rising star. Though most everyone else does, especially the Thunder's Chris Paul. He cleverly guided the 36-22 Thunder to victory with 19 points and nine assists. Danilo Gallinari led the Thunder with 24 points, 19 in the first quarter when the Bulls mostly watched to see if he could make shots.

"It's surreal to see Coby," said Paul, for whose AAU team White played. "I told Coby he wasn't going to score 33 tonight. I told him he only had six or something on me (Paul switched onto LaVine when he couldn't keep up with the nimble White).

Coby White erupts AGAIN with career-high 35 points off the bench vs. OKC.

White is the first NBA reserve in team history with three straight games of at least 30 points. White and Trae Young from last season are the only rookies to score at least 30 in three straight games in 20 years. The only rookies to have 30-point games in Bulls history were Jordan, Elton Brand and Ben Gordon. White is the first rookie in league history to post those numbers while making at least five threes in each game.

ESPN's SportsCenter late Tuesday night, justifiably, was promoting the play of—of course—Zion Williamson, averaging 28.5 points in the last four games with at least 30 twice in the last five. Williamson also is averaging 5.8 rebounds and has been great. White is averaging 28.3 in the last four, just two tenths of a point less, with one more game of at least 30 points and having made 18 threes and shooting 50 percent on threes in that stretch. No one is suggesting Rookie of the Year, which probably will go to Ja Morant, anyway, with the Grizzlies in playoff position.

But White should be making the NBA take notice. He truly has been a special player.

"I said this from Day 1, he's special," LaVine reiterated. "He can score the ball like no other and he continues to get better. He's 20 years old. He's starting to find his groove right now. He's coming off the bench right now, but when I'm out he's picking it up and he's keeping us in the game. It's been great, especially with both of us on the court. That third quarter when we were down I spent so much energy trying to get us back into it and he held onto that lead for us.

Coby White was 6-for-9 from behind the arc against the Thunder.

"He's putting a lot of hard work in," LaVine added. "I go into the gym and shoot after practice and he's right there. I can take a couple of breaks off the ball (playing with White). I don't have to go out there and try to create everything because he's doing it. He's scoring, facilitating, pushing the pace. So I'm able to take a breather and they can't help as much or load up. If either one of us is hot, they can't just stack their defense and make us pass or take a tough shot. They have to at least respect the dude who's hot; so it's been good. We've just got to get a little more. Us two individually played well, but it hasn't turned into a lot of wins. So we still have to figure it out."

Though perhaps help finally is on the way over the next week with Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen believed closing in on returns to play.

Tomas Satoransky added 10 points and Shaquille Harrison with active defense in the Bulls comeback had 11 points. But if the Bulls can work in scorers like Markkanen and Porter the way the dynamic two-some is playing, the basketball skies will perhaps finally begin to brighten going forward. around this dark Bulls season.

"Just all the hard work paying off, I guess. I've been putting in a lot of hours over my whole life. It's paying off and I've just got to keep grinding, keep getting better, and keep doing what I'm doing," said White, who is generally reluctant to talk about himself. He brightened and was more expansive when asked about LaVine's fourth quarter degree of difficulty threes that were like reverse somersault with a twist Olympic dives. Judges, show your cards!

"They were unbelievable, but I'm used to seeing them," said White. "I've seen (at) the logo, Charlotte where he hit that one (13th of 17). The NBA line is already long, and if you are taking it that deep, especially in the fourth quarter when your legs are kind of shot and you generate enough power, that shows you how strong he is as a player. He had that look in his eyes like it's my time."

Zach LaVine goes off for 41 points against OKC.

The Thunder seemed to have escaped, going back and forth with LaVine and White down the stretch in the kind of play that would have been instant classic if it were a playoff game. Zach with a pull up off the dribble, Coby running 94 feet. But Paul with a drive, Gallinari with a dunk and Shea Gilgeous-Alexander with free throws and then when the Bulls lost a tie up jump ball, the Thunder had a 120-114 lead with 30.9 second left.

"We haven't quit," said LaVine. 'We're not a team to where you get us down and it's a, ‘It just wasn't our night' type thing. We fight back; we have some fight in us."

So boom, LaVine stepped back for a 26 footer to get within 120-117. The Bulls fouled and Gilgeous-Alexander made one of two: 121-117 with 22.8 left. LaVine dribbled up barely past mid court, took a screen from Daniel Gafford and near the center court Bulls logo pulled up for another three to get the Bulls within one with 16.4 seconds left. This after LaVine had missed eight of nine threes and was carrying the team with mid range jumpers and drives.

"I could tell my shot was short," LaVine explained. "I missed my free throws and I couldn't get going on the three; everything was short. So I knew what I had to do to help us. I know how to adjust my game."

Paul made two free throws for a 123-121 Thunder lead with 15.1 seconds left.

LaVine fired off a tough three on the inbounds pass; it missed. But Gafford rebounded and put the ball back in with 8.3 seconds left and again the Bulls were trailing by one at 123-122. The Bulls fouled Paul again, but he missed one of his free throws to give the Thunder the 124-122 lead with 7.8 seconds left. Could the Bulls actually steal this one?

Earlier this season in Oklahoma City, the Thunder came back from a 26-point deficit to purloin a win against the Bulls. Without a timeout, the Bulls threw in to LaVine, who hurried up court. Paul came up from behind him and tipped the ball away and out of bounds. The official review kept the ball with the Bulls with 2.9 seconds left.

Go for the win with a three? Why not!

Satoransky inbounded to LaVine sliding under a Gafford brush screen and coming to the ball. Paul stuck to LaVine, who turned left from the right sideline. LaVine took a quick dribble past Paul, maneuvered to the top of the three-point line and rose for a relatively open, albeit off balanced, look with a half second left. LaVine's shot missed left as Paul grabbed his head with both hands to display his relief about the way the Thunder survived.

Zach LaVine stuffs it home for two of his 41 points against the Thunder.

"For us to come back and win that game, it would have been crazy," LaVine admitted. "It would have taken a couple of more spectacular shots. We ran that inbounds and they played it well, made me catch it by the half court area. I was just trying to make a play and get the shot up. I turned away from the defense, so I couldn't see if there was pass available. But there were only two seconds left. If I would have made it, I'd have been surprised. It wasn't a shot I had a clean look. It wasn't, ‘Oh yeah, this might be in.' It would have been tough."

Which is how this season has gone for the Bulls with the disappointments, the slumps, and now the injuries.

It's debilitating, and the Bulls looked that way to start again, another poor first quarter, trailing 25-8 and 36-28 after one quarter. It was 62-38 Thunder late in the first half, and the Bulls would only nudge back within 72-55 at halftime. It was another broken defense and uninspired effort. And then, seemingly like always, it turns around, lately with the play of LaVine and White with an occasional Satoransky or Thaddeus Young.

The Bulls pressured, blitzed and shot frenzied defensive lightning bolts at the Thunder. White was making threes and LaVine was making everything, scoring 17 of the last 30 Bulls points in the third to give the Bulls a 93-91 lead entering the fourth quarter. Then it was back and forth, shot for shot in a brilliant late duel of the best of NBA basketball. The Bulls again had dug too deeply to see enough light.

"Teams are jumping on us and I don't think we're responding, and then we figure it out, ‘Oh, we've got to do this or that.' But sometimes it's too late because it takes so much energy to get back into the game," said LaVine. "You've got to almost play perfect down the stretch. It's the tale of our season. We play hard, we have ups and downs, we're a little short at the end."