MINNEAPOLIS, April 18 (Ticker) --
Forget about Kevin Garnett
history. What about Sam Cassell
's playoff history?
NBA TV highlights from|
Using a quick start and strong finish, Cassell scored a playoff
career-high 40 points to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a
106-92 victory over the Denver Nuggets in the opener of their
Western Conference first-round series.
"Sam has a great deal of confidence," Minnesota coach Flip
Saunders said. "The shots he took tonight are the ones he's
been taking all year ... He's a player with no fear."
Minnesota's Sam Cassell went 16-for-24 from the field.|
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
An 11-year veteran, Cassell developed a reputation early in his
career as a clutch playoff performer as he helped the Houston
Rockets win consecutive championships in 1994-95.
"You saw him hit all those shots for Houston his first couple of
years in the league, stepping up and hitting those shots,"
Minnesota guard Fred Hoiberg
said. "This is when Sam's going to
thrive - in the playoffs, in pressure situations."
"Sam's been there quite often, with two rings," Nuggets coach
Jeff Bzdelik said.
The talkative point guard is in his first season with Minnesota,
which has lost in the first round seven straight years.
Garnett, one of the NBA's best players, has taken a lot of heat
for his inability to win in the playoffs.
Cassell maintained he wasn't part of that history and proved it,
making 16-of-24 shots and torching a handful of defenders with
drives, 3-pointers and his patented mid-range game.
"The coaches were telling me to be aggressive and drive the
ball, and if you have to shoot every time on the pick and roll,
shoot it every time," Cassell said. "So that's what I did."
Cassell scored 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the first
quarter, when Minnesota grabbed the lead for good. He scored 12
more in the final eight minutes, turning back a rally by Denver.
"He got it going early, and we couldn't stop him," Denver guard
Most important, Cassell picked up Garnett, who battled foul
trouble and collected 30 points and 20 rebounds. In the past,
this may have been a postseason game he would have lost.
"Sam was shooting the ball really well, and I didn't want to go
against that," Garnett said.
"Sam was unbelievable," Saunders said. "He made big shots to
get us going."
Instead, the top-seeded Timberwolves won Game 1 for the first
time in eight all-time series. Game 2 is Wednesday at
While the Wolves are in the playoffs for the eighth straight
year, the eighth-seeded Nuggets are in the postseason for the
first time since 1995. Eight of their 12 players were playing
in their first playoff game, and the inexperience showed.
"There's no substitute for experience," Bzdelik said. "They got
their feet wet and they battled."
Star rookie Carmelo Anthony
scored 19 points but made just
6-of-17 shots, including 0-of-5 from 3-point range. He picked
up two quick fouls in the first quarter and never found a
rhythm, fouling out in the final minute.
"This game is a big learning experience for me," Anthony said.
"I can go watch on film what I did well and what I did wrong."
Cassell's 3-pointer capped an 8-0 burst early in the third
quarter that gave Minnesota a 59-44 lead. The bulge ballooned
to 70-48 before Denver came back, closing to 80-75 early in the
Garnett sank two free throws and a short jumper before Cassell's
19-footer made it 86-75 with 7:46 to go.
Garnett took a seat with his fifth foul, and a three-point play
by Marcus Camby
- who scored 19 points - made it 87-80 with 6:36
remaining. But Cassell's jumper capped a 6-0 burst that
rebuilt the lead to 13 points.
"If I get looks like that every night, I think my teammates and
coaching staff like my chances of making those types of shots,"
"When he gets rolling like that, you just kind of let him do his
thing," Hoiberg said.