LOS ANGELES, April 22 (Ticker) -- The Los Angeles Clippers hoped Sam Cassell would take them to the playoffs. With more efforts like Saturday's, he may carry them much further.

Cassell had 19 points and seven assists against no turnovers and Elton Brand added 21 points and a big block down the stretch as the Clippers marked their first playoff game in nine years with an 89-87 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series.

NBA TV highlights from
Nuggets-Clippers:
Play
"I've been leading the whole year," said Cassell, who was acquired in a trade with Minnesota this offseason and was playing in his 104th postseason contest.

Brand was happy to get a win in his first playoff game, but upset with the way his team nearly faltered down the stretch.

"It's great to win but still a little disappointed because we let that big lead slip away," said Brand, referring to a blown 16-point third-quarter cushion. "But it's a learning experience."

The Clippers assumed control in the third period when Cuttino Mobley hit back-to-back 3-pointers in a span of 23 seconds for a 74-58 lead with 4:01 left. Cassell buried a 17-footer moments later but Los Angeles would not record a field goal for the next 6:32.

The Nuggets used the stretch to get within 76-72 on Earl Boykins' runner with 9:06 remaining in the game, but Cassell, who sat for the bulk of the Clipper's drought, returned and hit a 3-pointer that pushed the margin to seven points.

"Sam's leadership meant a lot," Brand said. "It's just great to know you have somebody out there with the type of poise, that kind of mindset, someone who's been there, someone who can lead from the point spot like that.

"'Big Game Sam' hit a lot of big shots for us also."

Los Angeles eventually rebuilt its lead to 10 at 87-77 on Chris Kaman's three-point play with 4:09 left before Denver used a 10-0 run to tie it. Andre Miller scored inside and then finished a fast break with a layup to knot the score with 67 seconds left.

"It's never good to blow a 10-point lead, but we're getting on-the-job experience " Cassell said. "Tomorrow in practice we're going to look at the tape and find out how the game got so close. They outhustled us. They made big-time basketball plays. That's something we have to understand."

Vladimir Radmanovic made a pair of free throws on the other end to finish the scoring and Carmelo Anthony - who missed all eight shots he took in the fourth quarter - had a drive blocked by Brand with 45 ticks remaining and failed on a pair of attempts in the final four seconds as the Clippers survived.

"Carmelo Anthony is the focal point of their offense," Brand said. "He was just coming down the lane, and I thought 'OK, I have my man, Kenyon Martin, who had scored a few buckets too, but more important I had to stop the ball.' I just wanted to attack the ball. I just wanted to go for the ball and contest the shot."

"That block was huge but that's what Elton's been doing all year," Cassell said. "That's nothing new."

Radmanovic's offensive foul gave the Nuggets another chance, but Anthony failed on a pair of attempts, including a potential game-tying jumper from the left corner at the buzzer while surrounded by three defenders.

"The last shots I remember were the last two at the end of the game," Anthony said. "On the last shot I didn't get a good look. When it was four seconds left and coach (George Karl) was drawing up the play, I said to myself, 'There's no way they're going to let me face up and shoot the ball.' I knew they were going to send a couple of defenders out there. But you can't miss a shot if you don't take it."

With Anthony the owner of five game-winning shots in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime this season, Los Angeles coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. planned for the obvious.

"We thought he (Anthony) might get the ball for a shot and we did a good job knowing the play," he said. "Our guys did a good job of doubling him."

Brand scored 12 points in the first quarter to help the Clippers open a 31-26 lead and after the Nuggets drew within 46-43 late in the second, Cassell sparked an 8-2 run to close the half with four points and one assist.

The league leader in fast-break points, Denver was held to eight in transition in the first half and failed to score in that manner in the third. Los Angeles led the league in transition defense during the regular season.

Mobley scored 17 points and Kaman had 15 and 13 rebounds for Los Angeles, which won a playoff game for the first time since May 5, 1993.

The Clippers will host Game Two on Monday before the series shifts to Denver.

"The toughest game in any home series is the second game," Dunleavy said. "Teams are most vulnerable and they have the most problems. You win the first one at home, you're feeling good about yourself and everyone is telling you what a great job you did, you're going to sweep them.

"(But) they know coming in here all they have to do is take one and shift the home court. So our work is not done, we can't even think along those lines."

Anthony and Miller had 25 points apiece for Denver, which shot 5-of-20 (25 percent) in the fourth and finished 35-of-91 (38.5 percent) from the floor.

Anthony is feeling optimistic the Nuggets can rebound.

"I'm feeling really good about our chances in the series," he said. "Me knowing how much fight I have in me and how much fight we have as a team. We always rebound. We're not going to steal Game Two, we're going to earn the win."