CHICAGO — It wasn’t Kobe to Shaq.
The pass won’t be as memorable, and a regular-season game can’t rival the significance of the postseason.
But when Coby White connected with Patrick Williams for the play of the game in the Chicago Bulls’ 124-118 home win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday, it looked familiar.
White capped one of the best games of his career with one last highlight. He scooped a loose ball following a scramble, scooted toward the basket inside the final 30 seconds and tossed a sky-high pass to Williams, cutting from the opposite wing. With the perfect touch, White floated the ball over the fingertips of 7-foot Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas. Williams did the rest, snaring the ball with his two massive paws before throwing it down with authority.
The busted play turned into a beauty and put the Bulls ahead by six with 20 seconds remaining. It became the signature play of this struggling Bulls season and was reminiscent of the Los Angeles Lakers’ famous lob pass from Kobe Bryant to Shaquille O’Neal from against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 3, 2023
“It was wide open,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said.
Williams had just missed a 3-pointer and was about to retreat defensively.
“It was 3-on-1 or 2-on-1, so they either were going to go to Coby and he was going to have the lob,” Williams said. “Or they were going to come to me and he was going to have the layup.”
As he did for much of his 40 minutes, White made the right read.
“He threw it,” Williams said. “It was just my job to go get it.”
On a night in which White had a hot shooting hand, his final assist was the better representation of his growth. In a critical situation, without Zach LaVine, the team’s leading scorer, and Alex Caruso, the do-it-all glue guy, by his side, the fifth-year point guard showcased his poise. His lob to Williams was not only pinpoint but it also was instinctive, the type of no-hesitation flick Bulls fans came to expect from Lonzo Ball.
“The ball was right there,” White said. “I went to pick it up and saw it was a 2-on-1. I just knew if I threw it anywhere, as long as I threw it high enough to where Valanciunas couldn’t get it, I knew Pat is so athletic and bouncy and springy that he could go get it. And that’s becoming his thing is ending the game with monster dunks.”
White scored a game-high 31 points to go with nine rebounds and six assists. He made 10-of-17 shots and went 8-for-13 from 3-point range. When he stood at the foul line with 4:44 remaining, the home crowd serenaded White with a chant of “COBY! COBY!” White said it reminded him of his rookie season.
In the fourth quarter, White outplayed Pelicans stars Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. While playing all but 49 seconds in the final quarter, White scored 12 points, making 4-of-5 shots, with two rebounds, three assists and one steal. The way he competed defensively was vital as well.
“You just (saw) the whole package tonight,” DeMar DeRozan said of White’s performance.
“We don’t get this win without him. He was special tonight.”
Coby White talks about his huge lob pass to Patrick Williams late against the Pelicans and personal growth this season. pic.twitter.com/mbVLCGuXPO
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) December 3, 2023
Before his pivotal lob pass, White sprayed two critical passes to teammates for 3s. First, he caught the Pelicans lallygagging in transition and pushed the pace down the middle of the floor. When the Pelicans finally collapsed onto him, White pitched to DeRozan for a left corner 3. It put the Bulls ahead by six with 4:25 left. One minute later, White found Torrey Craig for a drive-and-kick 3. It bumped the Bulls’ lead to 12 and followed a steal by White.
Both reads, coupled with the last-minute lob, put White’s development as a point guard on display.
“He’s not one of these guys that if he feels like he’s got it going that he’s just going to take a lot of heat-check shots,” Donovan said. “He doesn’t really do that. And I give him credit. He tries to play the game the right way. He knows that for us his penetration, his passing and his shooting helps our team. But if someone’s open, he’s going to try to pass the basketball. He’s always been that way, and he always tries to do the right thing by the team.”
Donovan spoke at length before Saturday’s game about how White’s role has fluctuated throughout his career, making it more difficult for him to find comfort. But teammates like DeRozan said White is demonstrating a better understanding of the intricacies of being a starting NBA point guard.
“For me, it’s amazing,” DeRozan said. “He wanted it. He definitely wanted to be the player that he showed he is tonight. I worked out with Coby a lot this summer. His drive, his work ethic is definitely amazing. He always asks questions. He’s always listening. He always wants to figure out how he can be better and how he can help. And you see it.”
White gave considerable thought before responding when asked if he was becoming the player he envisioned being.
“Coming into the league, my main objective was to get better every day. Take it one day at a time,” he said. “I knew coming into the league that I had a lot to learn. I had a lot of room to grow. So I’ve never been a guy, like, ‘One day, I’m going to be this. I’m going to be that.’”
White said he just wanted to be a consistent player.
He’s inching closer. He has found his shooting touch after a slow start and is averaging 22 points on 48.6 percent from the field, 50 percent shooting on 9.6 3-pointers per game and 93.3 percent at the foul line over the past five games. Over his past 10 games, he shot 45.8 percent from the floor and 46.5 percent on 8.6 3s per game. His consistency appears to be developing.
Now White wants something else.
“I just want to win games,” he said.
(Photo of Coby White being guarded by Jose Alvarado: Melissa Tamez / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)