Minnesota wins series 4-1 (Game 1 of 5)

Minnesota wins series 4-1

Game 1: Sunday, April 18th
Game 2: Wednesday, April 21st
Game 3: Saturday, April 24th
Game 4: Tuesday, April 27th
Game 5: Friday, April 30th

Coverage: FSW

8:30 PM ET, April 18, 2004

Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

1 2 3 4 T
DEN 22 20 26 2492
MIN 31 20 28 27106

Top Performers

Den: M. Camby 19 Pts, 8 Reb, 2 Blk

Min: S. Cassell 40 Pts, 3 Reb, 3 Ast

Nuggets kept at arm's length

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The playoffs started, and Sam Cassell was simply clutch -- the exact reason the Minnesota Timberwolves wanted him on their team.

Cassell tied a career high with 40 points, Kevin Garnett put up 30 points and 20 rebounds and the top-seeded Timberwolves beat the Denver Nuggets 106-92 on Sunday night in Game 1 of their first-round series.

"You pick your poison," Cassell said. "You double-team me, and the guy next to me can really go off."

Rookie Carmelo Anthony had a quiet 19 points in his postseason debut for the Nuggets, most of them in the second half with his team down by double digits. Game 2 is at Target Center on Wednesday night.

"He's going to be real good," Garnett said. "Game 2 is going to be even tougher."

Denver, making its first playoff appearance since 1995, didn't make it easy for Minnesota despite going 3-for-17 from 3-point range and getting outrebounded 48-35.

"There's a saying: No rebounds, no rings," said Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik, whose team couldn't attack like it usually does because of the Wolves' dominance inside. "If you can't get the ball on the board, then you can't get out and run."

The Timberwolves, determined to end an NBA-record streak of seven straight losses in the opening round, had their 22-point lead in third quarter whittled to five early in the fourth.

But Cassell helped stave off the eighth-seeded Nuggets, scoring 12 points over the final nine minutes.

"You just play ball, man," Cassell said. "If I get it going, I'm going to shoot the ball."

Marcus Camby had 19 points and eight rebounds, and backup Earl Boykins had 16 points and five assists for Denver, the first team since the league implemented an 82-game schedule to make the playoffs a season after winning less than 20 games.

"We're not down on ourselves," said guard Voshon Lenard. "There's a lot of guys tonight that never played in a playoff game, and they got a taste of that."

The Timberwolves weren't just winless in their previous seven playoff series, they had never even won a Game 1. Fed up with a 7-22 postseason record and sensing their chance to finally crack the Western Conference elite, they remade their roster over the summer and wound up with nine new players.

Cassell, who came in a trade with Milwaukee, was the big catch, largely because of his playoff experience. Sure enough, the motor-mouthed 34-year-old was in prime form Sunday night, directing traffic on the court, jawing with the refs and swishing jumpers from the wing.

"He gets into that midrange area, and he's going to knock down the shot," said Andre Miller, who guarded Cassell most of the game. "And then he starting hitting threes."

Cassell scored 11 points in the first four minutes of the second half, sparking a 19-4 run that Garnett capped with an emphatic dunk to give the Wolves their biggest lead, 70-48.

Cassell made three 3-pointers during the spurt, high-stepping it back on defense after the second as the Nuggets quickly called a 20-second timeout.

The Wolves, who had 15 turnovers, got a little sloppy midway through the third quarter and held a not-so-comfortable lead for the next 10 minutes.

Jon Barry made Denver's first 3-pointer in 13 attempts, a 25-footer that cut the lead to 79-68 at the end of the third period. The Nuggets came within 80-75 on Francisco Elson's jumper with 9:41 remaining before the Wolves snapped out of their funk and finished off the victory.

"When things go bad," coach Flip Saunders said, "Sam's like that. You tell him what to do, and he gets things going."

The 19-year-old Anthony, who is the same age Garnett was when he debuted in 1995, is going to lose out to LeBron James in the Rookie of the Year voting. That doesn't, however, diminish his value to Denver, which dearly missed the kid they call 'Melo in the last half of the first quarter.

Anthony went to the bench after committing foul No. 2 with 6:17 left, seconds after Minnesota began a 17-2 run to open a 27-16 lead. The Nuggets, after making seven of their first nine shots, sputtered without him and found it difficult to get free against tough on-the-ball defense by the Timberwolves.

"It was a perfect game for me to learn from," said Anthony, who shot 6-for-17.

Game notes

Cassell's previous playoff high was 33 points for Milwaukee in 2001. He scored 40 points in a regular-season game at Chicago that year. ... Lenard, who got up slowly after falling hard to the floor on his hip at the end of the first half, was scoreless after halftime and finished with seven points.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Team Stat Comparison

Points 92 106
FGM-FGA 37-85 (.435) 40-87 (.460)
3PM-3PA 3-17 (.176) 6-12 (.500)
FTM-FTA 15-20 (.750) 20-28 (.714)
Rebounds (Offensive-Total) 10-35 18-48
Assists 23 18
Turnovers 12 15
Steals 6 5
Blocks 6 6
Fast Break Points 6 3
Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 26 (0/0) 18 (1/0)

Top Performers

Marcus Camby Camby
Points: 19
Reb: 8
Ast: 0
Stl: 0
Blk: 2
Sam Cassell Cassell
Points: 40
Reb: 3
Ast: 3
Stl: 0
Blk: 0