Everyone has at one time or another overheard a head coach preaching the importance of his team needing to get off to a good start, but for the New Orleans Pelicans the opening twelve minutes truly seem determinative of whether they win or lose.
The Pelicans have outscored their opponents 12 times in the first quarter thus far this season, going on to win nine of those contests. During the 2018 playoffs, they beat the Trail Blazers and Warriors a combined six times in the first twelve minutes, which resulted in five victories. And over the final 28 games of the previous regular season — where New Orleans found their groove shortly after the trade for Nikola Mirotic, they won the first quarter 14 times, which resulted in 12 victories versus only two losses.
If you’re keeping track, the New Orleans Pelicans have beaten opponents on the scoreboard a total of 32 times after the first quarter of play since February 10, 2018, and they went on to win 26 of those matchups. An 81.25% winning percentage seems overly good considering the decent sample size number of games and that a healthy dose of those leads consisted of only a handful of points.
And, in fact, it is.
For comparison’s sake, NBA teams have led opponents a total of 305 times after the first quarter thus far this season. However, the winning percentage for the entire league after leading through 12 minutes of action is 65.58% (200-105). In another study undertaken a few years back, a NumberFire article calculated a 68.26% first quarter win percentage for a very similar sample size calculation.
So what does this mean?
Other than the fact that the New Orleans Pelicans are fantastic front-runners since trying to push the pace to the highest levels after DeMarcus Cousins went down with injury, I’m not sure, but head coach Alvin Gentry understands it’s incredibly important for his team to get off to good starts, like the 31-24 advantage we saw the Pelicans race out to over the Washington Wizards a few nights ago to put an end to a four-game losing streak.
“As a matter of fact, I just looked the other day and in the last three games, we were giving up 36.3 points in the first quarter,” said Alvin Gentry following the practice after Monday’s 124-107 defeat to the Celtics. “And so if you’re doing that, more than likely you’re playing uphill. And that’s what gets really tough with us is when we’re playing uphill.”
Limiting turnovers, making better decisions, making easier plays and doing a better job of finishing at the rim are just a few of the things Gentry highlighted earlier in the week which will aid New Orleans in getting off to stronger starts.
One thing is for sure though, when the Pelicans do jump out to a first quarter lead, they cash it in for a victory in the win/loss column better than most across the league.