NEAR-RECORD FIRST QUARTER SETS TONE FOR CLIPPERS

LOS ANGELES – The Clippers were dynamic, relentless and for a stretch were as dominant as they have been in any of their 54 previous games.

So much for a hangover after a long road trip.

It was more like they merely picked up where they left off.

After failing to convert on their second possession of Wednesday’s 106-96 win over the Houston Rockets, the Clippers made seven straight baskets, six either on dunks or 3-pointers.

They scored 46 points, one short of the franchise record, setting the NBA season high for any quarter this season. They made 77.3% of their field goal attempts (17-of-22), a team season-high. Every starter had at least one field goal, four had at least one assist, and they converted three alley-oops, including a shovel pass from Caron Butler to Blake Griffin that served as somewhat of a welcome home.

“Our home crowd was missing us so we had to come home and protect home court,” DeAndre Jordan said.  

Jordan also caught alley-oop, this one from Chris Paul, elevating to catch a pass that looked destined to go out of bounds on a fast break.

“[It] was crazy,” Jordan said. “I kept looking up and saying, ‘Man, is this still the first quarter?’ But we can score but I also felt that our defense led to a lot of easy buckets for us in the first quarter.”

Butler scored 17 points with three assists, Chris Paul had 10 points, six assists and two steals, Chauncey Billups went perfect from the field for seven points, and Griffin had eight points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. The Rockets had no answer.

“The biggest thing was we let our defense create our offense,” Paul said. “We’re just as tough in transition. We were getting stops, scoring, making stops.”

At the end of the barrage, which included five steals and nine points off Houston turnovers, L.A. was up, 46-28. It was the 29th time the Clippers have led after the first period this season. They have won a league-best 27 of those games.  

The early intensity Wednesday was similar to the opening 12 minutes in New York and Philadelphia earlier this week when the Clippers finished off their season-long eight-game road trip with a pair of victories. The win over the Rockets, much like the previous two, was set up by an opening quarter where the Clippers played with a defensive urgency that had been missing for much of a 20-game stretch where injuries and road weariness had the Clippers hovering around .500.

“I think once we lock in defensively and get some stops and we get out in transition, it helps, but really our flow to our offense and how we moved the ball from side-to-side,” Griffin said. “We really executed game plans on the offensive end on who we wanted to attack has been great. We’ve got to keep that going.”  

In the last three games, the Clippers are shooting 63.8% overall in the first quarter and 61.1% from 3-point range, outscoring their opponents, 98-67. They have also forced 17 turnovers.

Despite the statistical dominance over that stretch, Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro is focused on remaining consistent throughout the duration of each game.

“It’s a long season,” Del Negro said. “You get on runs a little bit, matchups, health, and certain guys in and out of the lineup. We just have to find a way to be as consistent as possible with both groups (starters and reserves).”