For a team that ended their winning streak after seven games, at least before losing to the Bulls on Sunday evening, the Clippers have developed a strange quirk. They’re one of the worst teams in the NBA’s first quarter this season, posting an average plus / minus 3.2 for the opening quarter, according to NBA.com/stats.
The Clippers were outperformed by 56 points in the first quarter, losing nine of the 13 first quarters they played. All of this would be normal for a bottom feeder, but this is a team that is 8-5 and sees themselves as a potential contender. Even during the winning streak, the Clippers were five times behind after the first half and lost a cumulative 39 points in the first quarter.
Coach Ty Lue had warned before the Clippers fell 13 points in the first quarter against Chicago.
“We have to keep challenging these guys not to fall behind,” Lue told The Athletic ahead of Sunday’s game. “Because if you follow suit, the rotations are somehow mixed up. Guys need to play more minutes. So it’s pretty hard to keep climbing out of holes like this, so we need to have better starts and do a better job with them. And I think we will move forward. “
Of course, the good news about the Clippers’ talent for relegating early in games is that they also have fairly particular resilience, the ability to absorb an early hit and plow forward, and even win games. It’s easy to focus on the negatives that come at the beginning of the game, but consider what happens from there: the Clippers are the best team in the NBA’s second quarter (up 4.2), the fifth-best team in the third quarter (plus 3.1) and the ninth-best team of the fourth quarter (plus-1.2).
The downside, however, is that the Clippers will have to rely more on the team’s starters when they come back from an early deficit. It happened on Sunday when Lue openly lamented star Paul George playing a season high 41:19 against Chicago, a game that took place on the second night of a clash.
“We just lost,” said Lue. “Our boys got tired, they thought it was tired. I screwed up for playing them for too many minutes. When you are tired you won’t attack the basket, you won’t come downhill. Took some hard shots, 3s, didn’t get into color. As I said, our boys were tired, you could see that, and that was up to me. What ever. Start a new strip. “
One positive aspect of the Bulls’ defeat was the persistently hot streak from guard Eric Bledsoe, who put in a solid performance for the third year in a row after a brutal start to the year. Bledsoe shot 7-for-14 out of the field for six rebounds. Bledsoe was one of the few Clippers to shoot with accuracy during the night – outside of him, the rest of the team shot 22 for 67, or 32.8%.
In his last four games, Bledsoe averaged 18.7 points on 5.0 assists and 4.7 rebounds, making up 52.4% of his shots and 37.5% of his 3-pointers.