Coby White

Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu lead Bulls past Hawks

Alex Caruso's left ankle injury only damper leading to Friday matchup in Miami

NBC Universal, Inc. Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu played spectacularly in the Bulls' victory Wednesday.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

So, the obvious question is: Where has that been all season?

Playing with passion and purpose, the Chicago Bulls’ mercurial ways continued at the United Center Wednesday night with a 131-116 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in the Play-In Tournament.

The Bulls advance to Friday’s matchup against the Miami Heat with the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed and a first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics at stake. The injury status of Jimmy Butler and Alex Caruso will be a major storyline until tipoff. Butler finished Miami’s loss to the 76ers after appearing to suffer a knee injury early, while Caruso checked in and out of the lineup like a revolving door as he battled a left ankle injury.

Miami is where the Bulls’ season died in the Play-In Tournament last season; the teams split four meetings during the 2023-24 season. Playing on Friday like they did on Wednesday would help.

The Bulls relentlessly attacked the paint with probing drives by Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu, either scoring at the rim or kicking out to 3-point shooters. It’s the offensive style that dominated so much preseason talk during training camp but only showed itself intermittently during the regular season.

White finished with 42 points, making his first 10 shots in the paint and shooting 15-for-21 overall. Dosunmu, returning for his first action since suffering a right quad injury on April 7, added 19 points.

"Coby set the tone getting downhill," coach Billy Donovan said.

The Bulls shot 56.8 percent overall, including 42.3 percent from 3-point range. DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic also had big games. Donovan praised DeRozan, who finished with 22 points and nine assists, getting off the ball when the Hawks started trapping him.

Defensively. Caruso started on Trae Young and---as he said he would---switched on to whatever hot hand had it going. In this case, that meant Dejounte Murray, who finished with 30 points.

Caruso did this after getting run over by friendly fire in the large presence of Andre Drummond, who flattened his teammate at halfcourt and stepped on Caruso’s right foot during the second quarter. That caused Caruso to re-aggravate a left ankle injury that has bothered him for weeks.

Caruso limped off the court and into the locker room but returned and then started the second half before leaving for good with 9 minutes, 43 seconds remaining.

The Hawks like to launch a ton of 3-pointers and crash the offensive boards. They ranked sixth in made 3-pointers and fourth in second-chance points during the regular season. The Bulls did a good job limiting damage in each category.

But the main storyline was the relentless pressure that White and Dosunmu placed on a aubpar Hawks defense.

"I think that was really important for us," Donovan said. "Going back to the last time we played them, we really didn't get there as much. We knew that we wouldn't get up the volume of 3-point shots that they do. So we needed to get downhill and attack the paint."

White showed off the ballhandling skills that he worked to improve last offseason, repeatedly turning small slivers of daylight into scoring opportunities.

Dosunmu hadn’t even practiced until Tuesday and talked afterward about still needing to clear the hurdle of full-out sprinting.

"Coach always tells us to put the eyes on the rim and then read the defense from that," Dosunmu said. "When you have a game with stakes like this---win or go home----you always want to stay in attack mode."

Twenty-four hours later, he and the Bulls sprinted past the Hawks into another one-and-done game in Miami.

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