MEMPHIS — For once, Jim Boylen found himself at a loss for words.
“Not very often,” the Bulls’ coach said when asked if could remember a rookie rallying a team to a comeback victory off the bench in his second NBA game. “I’d have to really think about it. I don’t know. Steve Francis? But he was a starter. I don’t know.”
Coby White is making everybody recalibrate their expectations and assessments.
White scored 21 of his 25 points on 10-for-16 shooting, including four 3-pointers, and added six rebounds and two assists as the Bulls rallied from 14 points down to defeat the Grizzlies 110-102 Friday night at FedExForum.
Teaming with Zach LaVine, who scored 37 points, White played the final 19 minutes, 25 seconds. His scoring and sensibilities made it impossible for Boylen to take him out.
“I wasn’t taking him out,” Boylen said.
And why would you? Not only does White continue to make plays, he flashes as much perspective off the court as he displays poise on it. Consider these answers.
Asked if he outplayed Ja Morant, White said: “We’re past the draft. At this point, we’re just trying to compete every night, both of us. That’s all that matters is winning games now. All those individual matchups, all that goes out the window.”
Asked about a dominant third-quarter stretch in which he threw a behind-the-back, left-handed pass to Kris Dunn for a layup and scored five straight points, White said: “We’re a team. One specific person, you keep giving him the ball. But we’re a team. We went on a run. I didn’t go on a run.”
Asked if, as a rookie, he ever feels he shouldn’t take big shots, White laughed: “Nah.”
The rookie just gets it. And what’s scary is White said he felt he could’ve played better, citing his slow start.
White admitted the 3-pointer near the end of the third quarter gave him some life. He showed more when he sank another 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 54 seconds left for the Bulls’ first lead of the game.
“If I feel like it’s a good shot for me, I’ll take it,” he elaborated. “I just feel I’m going in the flow of the offense. I feel it was a good shot for me, so I felt like I could knock it down. So I took it. It’s also a confidence thing. I don’t lack in that aspect of the game.”
“I told y’all from the jump I know how good he’s going to be,” LaVine said. “He’s going to continue to get better. He helped us big-time tonight. We told him, when he’s in that second unit, it’s go time. When we step on the floor together, we’re dynamic. It’s going to be exciting, man. I really like him.
“I’ve got confidence in him. He’s fearless. He ain’t scared of anything. He likes the moment. You can see it in his eyes. He wants that. That's something I can respect. You want those type of people out there with you in the fight.”
For the second straight game, White also showed some chemistry with Dunn in that second unit. By game’s end, though, he was running with the first unit, closing the game.
“Me and him, we take pride in being in the second unit. We don’t want any dropoff,” White said of he and Dunn. “Coach tells us the second unit is the dogs. We go out there and try to compete. When the first unit is struggling, we try to lift them up as much as possible.
“(Dunn) is super aggressive. I went against him in training camp. He’s one of the best defenders I’ve ever played against. He’s a ballhawk. He goes after the ball super aggressive. You rarely beat him off the dribble.”
Asked if he said ballhawk or ballhog, White smiled.
“Ballhawk,” he said. “H-A-W-K.”
Yes, it was a loose Bulls’ postgame locker room. But LaVine finally flashed some edge when asked about Morant.
“You can see why he’s so highly touted,” LaVine said. “But like I said, we’ve got a bad dude over here too.”
Coby mania is spreading.