LOS ANGELES, April 24 (Ticker) -- With Sam Cassell running his mouth, the
Los Angeles Clippers ran the Denver Nuggets out of the STAPLES Center.
Cassell provided leadership with his words and his play, and
Cuttino Mobley and Elton Brand had big games as the Clippers
ambushed the Nuggets, 98-87, and grabbed a 2-0 lead in their
Western Conference first-round series.
NBA TV highlights from Nuggets-Clippers:
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Mobley scored 15 of his 21 points in the decisive first half and
Brand totaled 19, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Cassell had 13
points and 11 assists while making sure the Clippers kept the
A 13-year veteran point guard with a pair of championship rings,
Cassell is the most experienced member of the Clippers, who are
in the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Always a talkative player, Cassell gave the Clippers
encouragement and instruction while working the referees and
engaging the Nuggets in a bit of friendly chatter. Whatever he said
worked as Los Angeles raced to a 25-point lead in the first 15
minutes and never looked back.
"I don't have to say too much," he said. "I just have to remind
them once in a while and once I've reminded them, we are off
"There wasn't any trash-talking. We were just having fun. I
respect every guy on their team and they are giving us respect.
No trash-talking, just competing. When you are competing you
tend to say things to each other. (But) nothing nasty that would
give the other team momentum."
The sixth-seeded Clippers also benefitted from the Nuggets' foul
trouble as star forward Carmelo Anthony had three fouls and zero
points in the first half. Without him, third-seeded Denver made
just 11 shots before the break and fell into a 22-point hole.
"Tonight was just one of those nights," Anthony said. "I got
those three early fouls quickly and I had to go and sit down.
Playing six minutes in the first half really hurt us. We still
had a chance to stay in the game with the fellows we had out
The series shifts to Denver for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday
and Saturday. Los Angeles has not won a playoff series since a
best-of-three set in 1976, when the franchise was in Buffalo
and Cassell was 6 years old.
With Cassell exhorting his teammates, the Clippers played one of
their best quarters of the season in the first period. They
moved and shared the ball, shot 65 percent (13-of-20) and raced
to a 32-13 lead.
"Sam knows what it takes," teammate Corey Maggette said. "He is
the one that is keeping us patient and keeps encouraging us by
telling us to just go out there and do what we are capable of
doing. It is good to have a guy with his leadership skills."
Meanwhile, the Nuggets were lost, especially after Anthony took
a seat with his second foul at the 7:08 mark. They could not get
their running game going and made just 6-of-24 shots.
Anthony returned at the start of the second quarter, and sat
down again 90 seconds later with his third foul. Two baskets by
Maggette and another by Shaun Livingston gave the Clippers
a 38-13 lead.
"Once Carmelo picked up three fouls in the first half, that
really set us back because he is a big focal point of our
offense and it definitely showed with the way we struggled,"
Nuggets center Marcus Camby said.
Anthony spent the rest of the first half hanging his head on the
bench. Mobley's running 40-foot banker beat the buzzer and gave
the Clippers a 56-34 lead.
"The whole first half was bad," Nuggets coach George Karl said.
"Their entire team played well. Usually, it's just a two-man
game on offense with Brand and Cassell, but that wasn't the case
tonight. Mobley had a great game offensively and (Quinton) Ross also played well."
In the second half, Anthony found a rhythm, making four of his
first five shots. The Nuggets inched to within 12 points before
Livingston capped an 8-0 burst with a driving dunk for a
three-point play and a 72-52 lead with 3:15 left in the third
"Anyone gets frustrated over fouls," Anthony said. "It is just
a matter how you bounce back in the second half. I tried to
come back in the second half fighting and compete, but by that
time it was a little bit too late for that."
A pair of baskets by Maggette bookended a 7-0 spurt that began
the final period, gave LA an 82-59 bulge and started the party
at the STAPLES Center.
Maggette scored 12 points for the Clippers, who had six players
in double figures and shot 47.5 percent (38-of-80). Cassell
thinks they can play better.
"We have not played our best basketball," Cassell said. "We
missed a lot of easy shots tonight. I missed seven great looks
tonight. Cat (Mobley) missed some as did (Chris) Kaman. And
Elton, our horse, missed a few wide-open jumpers. Hopefully we
can showcase better in Denver."
Anthony scored 16 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Camby contributed
16 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks for the Nuggets, who
shot just 34 percent (27-of-79). Denver also lost forward
Kenyon Martin to a knee injury late in the first half.
The Nuggets have lost five straight meetings with the Clippers.
"I don't know if we're confident right now," Karl said. "But
they will be on Thursday. Confidence can change in a practice
and a game."