NBA play-in: Coby White's 42 points lead Bulls' offensive explosion to end Hawks' season

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 17:  Coby White #0 of the Chicago Bulls battles with Dejounte Murray #5 of the Atlanta Hawks for a loose ball in the first half during the play-in tournament on April 17, 2024 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Coby White continued a career season with a career game for the Bulls in the play-in tournament. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

The Chicago Bulls are headed to the final leg of the NBA play-in tournament. They scored quite a few points along the way.

The Bulls defeated the Atlanta Hawks 131-116 on Wednesday, not far from their season high of 136 points during the regular season. Coby White was responsible for 42 of those points, more than any regular-season game he has played in his career.

The win sets Chicago up for a game against the Miami Heat for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That game is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on Friday in Miami. The Heat could be significantly short-handed for that game after a potential MCL injury to star Jimmy Butler. The Bulls could be short-handed as well, as ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that star defender Alex Caruso could be in doubt after sustaining a "significant" right foot sprain Wednesday.

As for the Hawks, their season is over after going 36-46 in the regular season.

Bulls blow out Hawks, let them come back, then blow them out again

It's hard to think of a better start for Chicago than hanging 40 points to energize the United Center crowd, and that's exactly what happened. The Bulls won the first quarter 40-22 and kept rolling for much of the second quarter.

They looked good doing it.

Engineering much of that offense was White, a player with a serious case for Most Improved Player after becoming a full-time starter this season. White finished the game with 42 points on 15-of-21 shooting with nine rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers.

The Hawks weren't done yet, though. They chipped away at the lead in the final minutes of the second quarter, led by Dejounte Murray on an off night for Trae Young. The three-time All-Star was playing his fourth game since returning from finger surgery and posted 22 points on 4-of-12 shooting with 10 assists and six turnovers.

Meanwhile, Murray, who finished with 30 points, was making his mark.

The Hawks were definitely alive, but their lack of depth hurt them badly. Neither of these teams is known for having a deep bench (Atlanta is No. 25 in the NBA in bench minutes per game; Chicago is No. 30), but the difference was Chicago didn't have any reason to pull their starters beyond fatigue.

Atlanta most certainly did, with De'Andre Hunter posting one of his worst games of the season with eight points on 3-of-16 shooting. The Hawks' offense stopped answering the Bulls' punches late in the third and the result was an 18-2 Chicago run that effectively put the game out of reach.

Where do the Hawks go from here?

It's not like any team should be happy about going 36-46 and getting blown out in the bad play-in game, but Wednesday's result is particularly troubling when you're running out of buttons to press.

The Hawks are built for Young to push them into the playoffs. He has his limitations, particularly on defense, but a player who can score and pass like him should be able to essentially be a "just add water" player on offense, the water being shooters and a competent pick-and-roll partner.

The Hawks tried that and reached the Eastern Conference finals, but struggled to follow up that success. They tried giving Young an All-Star backcourt partner in Murray and won two fewer games the next season. They fired head coach Nate McMillan and hired a veteran in Quin Snyder and got even worse.

What exactly do you do after that? Young, Murray, Hunter and Bogdan Bogdanović are all under contract for at least the next three seasons. Spotrac currently has the team with negative $46 million in cap space for next season.

Any moves to build around Young should have theoretically already been made by now. He's finishing up his sixth year with the team, with little to show for it beyond that time he trolled New York Knicks fans. That sounds like a player for whom you could entertain a trade, but even that wouldn't be particularly fair considering he was playing his fourth game back from injury.

It's going to be an offseason of hard questions for the Hawks.