Coby White scores 20 in first career start as Bulls beat Cavs 108-103

Starting the first game of his NBA career, Coby White continued his hot post All-Star break stretch, scoring 20 points in a 108-103 win over Cleveland.

The Bulls just don't lose when Coby White starts.

So maybe it was White's first ever professional start in the Bulls 108-103 victory over a Cleveland team again trying out the Cadavers nickname. And perhaps it was an unusually energetic group of Bulls players who because of new coronavirus protocols were required to be at least six feet away from any media member. Talk about clearer air to breathe. Which also make you wonder why players shower before speaking with reporters, but reporters never shower before interviewing players.

Ah, but I digress. And it was a bit of a pleasant digression for the Bulls Tuesday with a third win in their last eight games for a 22-43 mark and five Bulls scoring in double figures for the first time this season led by White with 20 points.

"Coby made some huge plays for us down the stretch," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "We had that spurt in the fourth (16-7 start to break from a 78 tie after three) and we were able to get a lead and hang on. Coby made some huge plays for us down the stretch. Shaq (Harrison) gets 10 boards; that huge for us. We had a defensive crew out there at the end. It was good."

Chuck Swirsky with BullsTV recaps tonight's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It was good, finally, as the Bulls were the ones this time to pull away late and finish even as the Cavaliers cut a 10-point deficit with under five minutes to 105-103 with 38.3 seconds. It was then Harrison made the game saving play flying in past Collin Sexton, who appeared to believe it still was the t-shirt parachute drop. As Sexton looked around, Harrison sprinted to the basket for the second chance and was fouled for two free throws. That gave the Bulls a four-point lead with 13.2 seconds left. Wendell Carter Jr. with 17 points then knocked the ball away from a driving Sexton to effectively end the game. Sexton led Cleveland with 26 points on 12 of 16 shooting.

Harrison had just eight points. But he led the Bulls in rebounding for a second straight game and added three blocks. He was credited with just one steal when it seemed he had a half dozen the way he disrupted the Cavaliers. It was a testament to the way the Bulls at least continued to compete in what probably was White's poorest game since his post All-Star breakout. And White still scored 20 on a bad day.

White had nine of the Bulls 21 turnovers, which accounted for much of the Cleveland offense with 32 points.

The Cavaliers now with the lumbering Andre Drummond to join the lumbering Kevin Love were without their point guard, rookie Darius Garland. Sexton is a flash like White, but the Cavs don't work the ball much and play a lot of isolation. So the Cavaliers tried—and almost got away with—the 90s NBA game of big guys banging away inside. That game was undermined some by almost casual defense that on several occasions had Bulls players hesitating to take threes and no one even attempting to run at them. It was a new Cleveland oxymoron of enthusiastic indifference.

To the Bulls credit, you never see that lack of effort.

Coby White scored 20 points against the Cavs in his first career start.

One of the pivotal closing plays was a Tomas Satoransky offensive rebound to set up one of those shoot-already threes from Thad Young, which gave the Bulls a 100-93 lead with 3:22 left.

"Sato just goes out and competes, runs the ball down, knocks people over," praised Boylen. "He's got a great heart to play the game really hard. I thought overall Shaq and Sato were great at our compete level; that's what we have to do."

Satoransky in a bad post All-Star slump moved to the bench with White drawing his first—and much anticipated—start. Satoransky was predictably gracious about the move, supportive of White while accepting fault.

"I kind of expected that," said Satoransky, quietly fighting off a hyperextended thumb injury the last week. "I think it was logical with the way I have been playing since the All-Star break (under 20 percent on threes) and the way Coby's been playing. You just have to respect it. Sometimes that happens to you as a player. I'm just happy for him; he was helping us win the game. He's been balling out, so I felt like he deserved that chance."

Harrison probably is not going to start much longer as the Bulls are closing in on having their main starters together with Porter in his fifth game back from season long injury and Zach LaVine perhaps playing this weekend in Florida or back in Chicago Sunday. Harrison has been impressing the way he's been dominating the rebounding as the Bulls smallest player in the game at about 6-4. Denzel Valentine and Lauri Markkanen both added 15 points and the Bulls hustled to 17 second chance points against the taller Cavaliers with Andre Drummond getting 21 points, but just seven rebounds.

Otto Porter Jr. contributed 15 points off the bench in the win.

Meanwhile, the most pivotal play was Harrison's offensive rebound. That came with the Cavaliers in one of the worst shooting displays of the season missing 16 of 18 threes. Suddenly they made four in five attempts to get within 103-101 with 1:26 left. White ran a nice two-man game to get Carter a pair of free throws for a 105-101 lead with 1:11 left as Carter had his liveliest effort since his return from an ankle sprain.

Sexton then committed a turnover and the Cavs began to trap with the clock below a minute. Harrison got stuck in the backcourt, so with the eight-second clock expiring, Boylen sprinted onto the court for a timeout and added another to advance the ball. The Bulls loused up the strategy with a turnover. But it was Shaq when needed just like the Lakers used to say.

Yes, it was Shaq and Coby to the rescue.

"We came out and fought hard," said White. "We finished on a good note. Wasn't pretty, but we gutted it through and we played tough and played with grit, so it was good. Exciting (to start) and get a win my first one. It's a blessing to be starting in the NBA. I'm just trying to stay locked in and focused on the game and what I've got to do to help my team win. You want to do good and play good and you want to help your team win."

Coby White had 20 points in his first career NBA start.

White did so as the symmetry wasn't lost on the United Center fans as the pregame introduction declared, "From North Carolina…"

It's been awhile.

Like the wins as the Bulls have been getting close often despite the revolving door of injuries, substitutions and mishaps. The Bulls again were without LaVine as he turned 25 years old Tuesday. Cleveland led 29-27 after the first quarter and then the Bulls took the handoff for a 54-52 halftime lead in a game with 30 ties and lead changes. The Cavs dropped to 19-46. The Bulls went ahead by seven points late in the third only to have the Cavaliers finish 9-2 for the tie after three quarters.

And then the Bulls took control, Harrison with a tipin score, Valentine with a pair of threes, Satoransky finally with a three on one of White's five assists, Carter getting some of that lift back for a score and then Harrison getting to the right spot at the right time to keep the Bulls from being left behind.