Bulls fans were feeling a nervous sense of deja vu when the Bulls again let their double-digit lead slip and went into the fourth quarter tied at 83-83. Then Coby White caught fire, hitting 7 3s in the fourth quarter - a franchise record for 3s in a quarter - pushing the Bulls to a 120-102 victory and leaving the crowd chanting "Coby, Coby, Coby!" as he left the game in the final minutes.
As Coby White was leaving the United Center floor Tuesday following the Bulls 120-102 victory over the New York Knicks, teammate Wendell Carter Jr. playfully dumped a cup of water on White. It was going to take a lot more than that to cool off the Bulls rookie.
"I just got hot, I guess," said the Bulls unflappable guard.
Smokin', actually, as White donned his superhero mask. He made a franchise record setting seven fourth quarter three pointers and 23 of his career high 27 points in the quarter to rescue the Bulls, who had lost a double digit third quarter lead and were tied at 85 entering the fourth quarter.
In a searing 3:06 stretch early in the fourth quarter, White calmly made five threes in eight Bulls possessions — hello, Knicks, anyone got that guy? — to break open the game during what became a 22-0 Bulls run. White framed his masterpiece with a sixth three pointer in that stretch, most of which were open shots thanks to sharp Bulls ball movement. That made it 109-89 with 5:51 left in the game. It seemed more like a New York minute, though this one they'll talk about for much longer.
Coby's Fourth Quarter 3s
"I had been shooting it bad," White acknowledged.
White was connecting at 21.2 percent on threes for the season, and you began to wonder where he might find a shooting guru with that low release sling shot style. He'd missed 33 of his last 38 attempts three-point attempts, though he didn't seem to lose any confidence. He was third on the team in attempts despite shooting threes better than only Kris Dunn and Wendell Carter Jr. They all felt good leaving his hand, as it were.
"Just stick to my craft," White explained. "Just stick with what got me here, working hard and getting reps in the gym. I know that to shoot you out of a slump, you've got to shoot the ball and stay confident. If you're not confident, you're never going to hit shots. Once I hit that first one, it was a relief. There's been a couple of games where I haven't hit a three and I've been shooting it real terrible. It was relief to see that first one go in. It was almost like a weight lifted off my shoulders."
Which was vital because that could have been the concrete shoes tied to the sinking Bulls. Instead the Bulls moved to 4-7. The plummeting Knicks, whose general manager called out the team after their last loss, fell to 2-9.
Zach LaVine added 25 points for the Bulls in a game that had its highlights for the team, if not sustained. Carter had another double/double with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Dunn and Lauri Markkanen each had 13 points. Dunn also with three more steals was particularly impressive with his defense and determination when the Bulls closed the first quarter on a 14-0 run after the team had started tentative and slow paced.
"He's locked in and he's playing winning basketball," Boylen said.
Which wasn't the way the Bulls began, a team that talks about running but which has too often played stagnant on offense. It seemed so again, which would have been disastrous against a crumpling Knicks team already facing rumors of a coaching change. One of the Knicks two wins was against the Bulls in the Bulls' worst of several fourth quarter collapses. New York has many nicknames — not really Knicks names anymore — like the Big Apple, Gotham and Fun City. Snow White supposedly tried that apple, and there are a lot of jokers in the city. Playing the Knicks these days has started to feel like Fun City for opponents, though the Bulls were wincing about their losing record to the Knicks. Carter before the game even challenged Bulls killer Bobby Porter (at least that one time) that he would not happen again.
Portis made decisive fourth quarter shoots to elevate the Knicks last month. But he was quiet — other than his usual technical for taunting — with seven points in 19 minutes. Marcus Morris Sr. led the Knicks with 22 points and rookie R.J. Barrett had 21 for the team last in the NBA in field goal and free throw shooting and next to last in scoring. The Knicks are proud to point out they're No. 1 in offensive inefficiency.
Though the way the Bulls have been playing lately, it's not like they should be laughing at anyone.
And then it came awfully close to crying. This one would have hurt.
"We want to win these games to help us get to the playoffs," said Carter.
That's right, a half game out of seventh!
They ain't dead yet.
So, again, despite several disappointing losses, the Bulls continue to show signs in fits and starts — and giving their fans fits at times — of the talent that led many to consider them playoff contenders. LaVine had another good game facilitating, though the lack of a true orchestrator has hurt at times. LaVine had five assists and Ryan Arcidiacono had a strong effort with eight assists.
"Zach LaVine, we put the ball in his hands a little more tonight than we've been and I thought he made good plays," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "I thought he moved the ball. I thought his floor game was really good for us tonight."
Zach sets up Wendell for the alley-oop
It's still something of a test drive for these Bulls with Otto Porter Jr. still out with a foot injury and replaced by Chandler Hutchison. This time the reserves had the most in reserve with a 53-22 scoring margin with Boylen riding bench players much of the fourth quarter. Markkanen, Hutchison and Tomas Satoransky only played late in the quarter after the game was basically decided. Thanks to that one reserve, White. Who bathed in the glow of several standing ovations and chants of "Coby! Coby! from the appreciative audience. White even dazzled for his seventh three, a step back 30 footer with 1:42 left, wiping three fingers across his cheeks as the arena erupted.
"Obviously, Coby was terrific," said Boylen. "I thought the beauty in Coby's game was he let it come to him. But also, we found him. We honored what he was doing. We kept feeding him, we kept finding him and I thought that group did a helluva job. Arch was finding him, Kris was finding him, they were excited for him. We talk about those things. When somebody's got it rolling, let's honor that and keep him rolling. I thought they did that and I thought our bench was great. I just think it's part of the maturation process of this team."
That's been an issue for the Bulls this season, often seeming to forget who's hot and who's not.
Though it's also a function of a playing system that relies on many players making plays instead of a natural point guard. But it is just barely into the season.
"How many hot guys have we had to even be in that situation?" asked Boylen. "That's part of it. We haven't had a whole bunch of hot guys. Hopefully we'll have more and we'll keep getting better at it. We had one tonight and we did a good job."
It didn't look like the Bulls would need anyone to be that special with that first quarter curtain closer led by those same reserves. Dunn and Arcidiacono were causing havoc, and maybe there were worse games played than by Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. But with poor shots, wild passes and bad fouls, there were few poorer ones you'd ever witness.
The Bulls led 30-22 after one quarter after falling behind by six and then led by a dozen early in the second quarter with Dunn making a three and a pair of runners. The Knicks shook up the Bulls with a 22-12 return volley that cut the Bulls lead to 60-54 at halftime. The Bulls raced ahead 72-62 to start the third quarter on a pair of LaVine scores, Carter throwing everyone aside for another put back and Markkanen scoring on a drive and fading bank shot. Hutchison also did a smart job defensively staying in front of players as Dunn pressured effectively. But the Bulls had another of those fallow scoring sequences when the ball doesn't get to the right guy, and the Knicks took a 78-77 lead. It was then tied after three on a Portis three and stare at the Bulls bench.
It would not be so again because White gave the New Yorkers yet another black out and turned the lights out on the Knicks. You know that White light they talk about at the end? You get the sense the Knicks are starting to see it.
It was an historic shooting event for the usually phlegmatic White, two short of Klay Thompson's all-time NBA record for threes in a quarter. White's college coach. Roy Williams, was in attendance and White joked afterward he should come more often. White said Williams told him "to go out there and be Coby. He just told me if I be Coby, everything will take care of itself."
No wonder the rest of us can't get those high paying college coaching jobs with wisdom like that.
Though White generally seeks a higher power than even Williams.
"It's a blessing," White said during an oncourt interview with NBCSports after the game. "I give all the glory to God. He put me in this position. I just what to thank God for it; it's unbelievable. I surprised myself. I didn't think I was going to keep hitting, but like I said, I have to thank God."
We in media generally like to separate church and sport. Sometimes those quotes about a higher power are left in, but there's sort of an unwritten media rule — media has them, also — to leave them out and keep it secular for the broader audience. I digress about this as I often recall John Salmons talking about this. The one time Bulls guard is religious. And he asked media members why we left out those quotes when he talked about God. Nothing personal, it was explained, but it could lead to offense, church and state and all that. Though Salmons had a point. He said it; he believed it. So why not report it?
In any case, it's been a blessing for the Bulls to have Coby White.