- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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NEW YORK -- Doc Rivers' fear became a reality.
Surveying his locker room before the Los Angeles Clippers faced the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, the coach didn't like what he saw. He told his assistants he was concerned as the Clippers prepared to finish a back-to-back set of games.
"It was pretty dead," Rivers said of the pregame atmosphere.
For roughly the first nine minutes, the Clippers looked anything but dead, slicing up the Nets' defense for a 13-point lead. Then the shots stopped falling and Brooklyn started scoring at will.
The Clippers' hot start proved to be a mirage and they couldn't maintain their early advantage, struggling on offense in a 102-93 loss to the Nets at the Barclays Center. It was the fourth consecutive game in which the Clippers scored under 100 points, and the fifth time during their six-game trip.
"This is a tough one, especially with that start we got off to," Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. "We were just fighting an uphill battle all game."
Buoyed by hot shooting, the Clippers, one night after beating Boston, rushed to a 23-10 lead as they shot 8-for-14, including 3-for-3 on 3-pointers. As Rivers started putting in his bench, though, the lead evaporated and the Clippers were up just 25-20 after the first quarter.
The stagnant offense carried over to the second quarter, and over the final 15 minutes and 28 seconds of the first half, the Clippers went 7-for-24, including 0-for-8 from deep. They also turned the ball over nine times in that span, allowing the Nets to build a 56-44 halftime lead.
The Clippers never came closer than nine in the second half. Paul led the team with 20 points.
"I thought we started out with great spirit," Rivers said. "The bench came in and gave it all away. When you come in and you're tired to start with, and then you get the lead, we had a -point lead and the bench comes in and lets it slip away, you could feel the air just get let out of the game."
Rivers said the offense struggled because of a lack of ball movement, and Paul said he did not do a good-enough job facilitating. Rivers said there was too much dribbling, and the team didn't run its usual offense. Both also said the team's 17 missed free throws in 52 attempts were costly.
One player who particularly struggled was forward Jared Dudley, who shot just 1-for-7 and had 4 points in almost 26 minutes. In his past three games, Dudley is 8-for-31, including 3-for-15 from beyond the arc. He hasn't drilled more than one 3-pointer in his last nine games.
"If I was the coach I'd bench me, just the way I've been playing," Dudley said. "Something that I have to keep working on."
With their loss Thursday, the Clippers are now just 3-3 on a trip that will wrap up Saturday at Washington. It might just be December, but the team talked up the importance of finishing this road swing with a winning record.
"We got to put everything into that game," Paul said. "We're going to D.C., Washington team has been playing well. We got to win it. Got to win it. It's early in the season, but it's a must-win for us. At least feel somewhat decent about this road trip."
3dMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon