The Los Angeles Clippers played an absolutely terrible first quarter in Chicago against the Bulls Friday night. They allowed the Bulls, a team that averages 93 points a game and is ranked 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, to score 26 points on 12-24 shooting, including fully 20 points in the paint. The game was four minutes old before the Clippers got a rebound, and by that time the Bulls already had five boards -- of their own misses. It was a defensive disaster.

And it didn't matter a bit, because the Clippers couldn't miss, and in particular they couldn't miss from three point range. The Clippers led after one quarter 41-26, making 14-19 overall and 7-8 from deep. The seven three pointers was a franchise record for made threes in a quarter. The 41 points was the most the Bulls have given up in a quarter in several seasons under Tom Thibodeau. In fact, the Bulls must be feeling a bit snakebit after running into a white out Clippers team twice this season. The Clippers have now hung 121 and 112 on the Bulls, the two highest point totals Chicago has allowed in regulation this season.

But back to that first quarter. Teams can play well and lose; and conversely teams can play badly and win. The Clippers cleaned up their act some as the game wore on, but make no mistake: they did not play well in the first quarter, nor even in the first half. They SHOT well, but they did not play well. There's a difference.

Certainly the Clippers executed well on offense. They made 10 of their first 11 threes in part because they were moving the ball and finding good shooters for open looks. Of those ten first half threes, five were from the corner: one of the best shots in basketball, and consequently a shot that Thibodeau hates to give up. The Clippers offense was working to get those looks -- and then they made them.

The defense on the other hand: yikes.

I happened to watch the ESPN broadcast tonight. Mike Tirico and Jon Barry don't send me over the edge the way guys like Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller do, and it's interesting to get the national TV perspective from time to time. Because I was on ESPN, I got to hear Doc Rivers' first quarter coach's remarks, and I'm glad I did, because he succinctly made a point that I've tried to make on the blog many times. When asked by Heather Cox about the seven made threes in contrast to the six they made all game in Charlotte, Rivers said:

It's a make-or-miss league. We got great looks the other night; they didn't go in. Tonight they're going in; and we're going to keep shooting them every night.

The Clippers' are among the worst three point shooting teams in the league by percentage, but Rivers does not view this as a team that shoots the long ball poorly. He knows that six of his top eight shooters are below their career numbers, and only one is above. He further knows that for the Clippers to be the team that he wants them to be, to be a team that can compete deep into the playoffs, they must be effective from beyond the three point line. If they don't take open threes, they have essentially already lost their chance, because good NBA teams make three pointers, and lots of them. This team was built to shoot threes, and that's just how it is. The common refrain of "If they're not going in then stop taking them" sounds simple enough -- but it is flat wrong.

Of course, it would be nice if we could trade a couple first half makes in Chicago for a couple of second have misses in Charlotte and come away with two wins in those two games, but unfortunately it doesn't work that way. The Clippers seem to run hot and cold (or more accurately, red-hot and ice-cold) from deep, and that's a problem. One can only hope they can find some consistency in the second half of the season. Overall, they remain well below what one would expect from theis group certainly.

The good news is that the Clippers could very well have given this game back, but they did not. Despite their crazy good shooting and 68 first half points, they led by only 13 at the break. The Bulls cut the lead to single digits a couple times in the third quarter, and seemed to be building some momentum. But the Clippers always put together a basket and a stop to turn the tide, and more often that not Blake Griffin was at the center of the surge.