LOS ANGELES -- Bad habits are difficult to break.
Ten games into the 2013-14 season, the Los Angeles Clippers are already learning to deal with that maxim.
Four times this season -- against the Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and now the Brooklyn Nets -- the Clippers have played lackluster first-half defense and faced a double-digit deficit in the third quarter.
Four times this season, the Clippers have roared back with an impressive double-digit third-quarter run of their own.
Despite their early success with third-quarter comebacks (they're 3-1 in such games), though, the Clippers understand they have to address their sluggish first halves.
"If you're down, you play with a better sense of urgency," J.J. Redick said after the Clippers' 110-103 win over the Nets on Saturday night at Staples Center. "That's the bottom line. ... At that point, you have no choice but to make a run and play with a higher sense of urgency. I don't think we're happy with that. We want to get to a point where we're playing with a sense of urgency for four quarters."
The Nets -- playing without stars Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Brook Lopez -- consistently took advantage of the Clippers' defensive lapses throughout the night, leading by as many as 10 points in the second quarter and 11 points early into the third quarter.
Coach Doc Rivers attributed the Clippers' first-half struggles to a few factors -- their defensive breakdowns and inability to keep the Nets off the offensive glass included -- but specifically said the slower first-half pace was the biggest issue.
"Our pace [in the first half] was bad offensively and defensively," Rivers said.
In the third quarter, however, the Clippers cranked up their defensive intensity, got out in transition and went on a 20-2 run to take control of the game.
Redick scored 10 points (two 3-pointers), Blake Griffin had five points (a 3-point play in transition and an alley-oop dunk) after briefly leaving with his mid-quarter ankle scare, and Chris Paul dictated the offense with five assists.
"We turned [the pace] up and won the game, so I'm happy about that," Rivers said. "It's hard to not have it on and then turn it on, and I thought at least we did that."
According to NBA.com/Stats, the numbers back up the claim the Clippers have dominant in the third quarter.
So far, the Clippers are outscoring their opponents by 16.1 points per 100 possessions in third quarters. That's much better than their net differential in first quarters (2.2 points per 100 possessions), second quarters (0.5) or fourth quarters (-2.9).
While Rivers has noticed the tendency to coast until the second half, he can't quite pinpoint yet what's behind the Clippers' mysterious third-quarter improvement.
"I don't know," Rivers said. "It's not my speech, I can tell you that. I think our guys understand. They know when we're playing well. I like the growth of a lot of our guys. Tonight, we made a lot of defensive mistakes and right away they knew it."
At 7-3, the Clippers are right where they should be in the standings. They dropped two games to sub-.500 teams (the Magic and Los Angeles Lakers), but made up for those disappointing outings with a handful of wins against quality playoff opponents (the Thunder, the Timberwolves, the Warriors and the Rockets twice).
Still, they have yet to put together 48 minutes of consistent effort on either end of the court. There is plenty of room for improvement in the infant season, and the Clippers have acknowledged as much. They have identified what they're doing wrong, they just haven't been able to break their bad habit yet.
"Like I said four games ago, our next step is going from knowing it to doing it," Rivers said.
"We're getting close."