CARON BULTER THRIVES IN FIRST AND THIRD QUARTERS

Caron Butler
In seven games Caron Butler is averaging 10.6 points and shooting nearly 50% from the field.

PLAYA VISTA – Be it the first quarter or immediately after halftime, Caron Butler has a way of inserting his scoring into the game in bursts.

On Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks, the Clippers small forward scored 10 of his 13 points in a 7-minute stretch of the third quarter, helping keep the Clippers close in what eventually turned into an 89-76 victory.

“[Butler] came out in the third quarter, hit some shots for us when we were kind of struggling, and got us back in the game there,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said.

But unlike some of Butler’s other hot-shooting days from the perimeter, it was more about his all-around contributions. Butler grappled with athletic forward Josh Smith defensively and grabbed six rebounds, which followed four games in which he combined for seven boards. The Clippers are 10-4 in Butler’s two-year stint with the team when he scores at least 10 points and grabs at least five rebounds.

According to Del Negro, he talked to Butler about boosting his performance on the glass. 

“I was more pleased yesterday that he got six rebounds,” he said following Monday’s practice. “I talked to him about it and he’s got to rebound better and he responded really well, so that was great to see. I don’t worry about Caron’s scoring.

“When Caron locks in he’s able to do any of the things he wants sometimes out there, so I have a lot of confidence in him.”

Perhaps the most confidence comes in Butler’s ability to get the offense going in the early stages of the game and/or immediately out of the locker room at halftime.

“He usually gets going in the first and the third quarter,” Del Negro said. “Caron’s a big factor in terms of spreading the offense for us because he can score the ball.”

That may be an understatement. Through seven games, Butler has scored 67 of his 74 points (91%) in either the first or third quarter, a trend that picked up from last season when he managed 74% of his scoring in the same two periods.

Part of the scoring output has to do with the Clippers rotation. This season, for example, Del Negro has typically used Matt Barnes off the bench for lengthy stretches in relief of his starting small forward. Against the Hawks, Barnes played 22 minutes, while Butler was on the court for 26.

“We have a lot of depth,” Del Negro said. “Matt’s going to play some minutes, when Grant [Hill] comes back or Chauncey [Billups]. There are a lot of players. You’re not going to make everybody happy every game that’s just the way it is, that’s the way we’re built.”

Still, Butler, who said last week he “loves” the number of open looks he’s getting within the Clippers offense, is going through a bit of a shooting revival in the early stages of the season. He’s made 49.2% of his shots, including 47.8% from 3-point range. He’s one of six Clippers averaging in double-figures (10.6 points per game) and has made two 3-pointers in four games, including four in a 20-point outing versus Golden State.

For Butler, who played 63 of 66 games last season just 11 months removed from surgery to repair a ruptured patella tendon, it is all about feeling healthy.

“Last year was extremely tough with the health situation, coming off pretty much a lockout season and not knowing when the season was going to start,” Butler said. “My leg wasn’t under me, I wasn’t feeling extremely healthy at the beginning of the season, but I feel great [now].”