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What Happens To EB After the First?

This topic has been simmering for awhile.  I've been intending to put some hard numbers behind it, and to espouse some sort of explanation, but frankly it's too damn much work to go through game logs for three weeks, and I don't have a great explanation.

But we don't need specific numbers to know that Elton Brand is scoring almost at will in the first quarter of games, only to more or less disappear from that point on.

In a game like New York, where the Clippers led by 24 in the fourth quarter, and then Elton helped stop the comeback with two late buckets, it's all good.  He scored 15 in the first 7 minutes to get the team off to a good start, the other guys got involved, and then when they needed it, he helped put the game away at the end.  But even in that game, you have to wonder why he did not have a field goal attempt in the second quarter, after starting 7 for 8.

But the trend gets really disconcerting in games like last night against Orlando.  Quarter by quarter, Elton was 5 for 5, 1 for 3, 1 for 2 and 0 for 3.  The obvious first question is did the Magic make a defensive switch, and the answer is yes.  Battie had the assignment in the first quarter, and then they went to Howard or Bo Outlaw the rest of the game.  Fine.  But is it that easy to win the chess match?  Brian Hill makes one move, and we lay down our king?  Besides, Elton's 5 makes in the first quarter were all jump shots.  Is Dwight Howard THAT good, that he can take away Elton's jumper?  I'm not buying it.  

The Orlando game is just one example, and certainly the refs were allowing Howard to play Elton very physically, which hurt his effectiveness.  (EB only had 2 free throws in the game, none in the second half.)  But there are many others.

Against Portland, he was 5 for 7 in the first, 2 for 2 in the second, 1 for 4 in the third and DID NOT SHOOT in the fourth.  So in two recent winnable road games, Elton has followed up a torrid start with one second half basket.  Ouch.  No wonder the team is 2-11 on the road.

Against Dallas he was 5 for 6 in the first quarter, 1 for 3 in the second quarter and missed his only shot of the second half.  Of course, that game was out of hand by halftime, so he basically didn't play the second half.  There was a similar pattern against San Antonio, where he started strong but disappeared, partly because the game was over and he was on the bench.

And there are a few exceptions as well.  In the win against Sacramento, his strongest quarter by far was the third.  And in the most recent loss in Utah, he had a strong fourth.  

But far too often in recent weeks, Elton has started strong only to disappear.  So, what's going on here?  Is there a pattern, or is it my imagination?  We need to bear in mind that Elton is not Kobe.  He's never going to take 40 shots in a game, or even 30.  It's not in his nature.  His season-high in shot attempts is 22, and that was opening night.  He hasn't taken more than 19 since.  (Of course, we all thought he needed more than 22 back on Nov. 1.)  He's not the unstoppable go to guy, as much as we would like him to be.  But still - 1 for 5 in the second half against Orlando is a different problem.  Making only 1 is unfortunate - taking only 5 is inexcusable.

Any theories?  Does the team forget to go to him?  How is that possible?  Do the defensive adjustments take him away?  Why can't the Clippers adjust as well?  

I'm sad to say that I think I know the answer.  EB is simply limited on offense, to the point where the defense can increase their focus enough that he can't overcome it.  First quarter defense is simply not the same as fourth quarter defense.  And Elton is not the kind of player to score at will against fourth quarter defense.