LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Clippers won their first
playoff game since 1997 -- even after blowing a late 10-point lead.
When it was over, it really didn't matter whether it was the
Clippers' lack of playoff experience or the Denver Nuggets getting
the job done down the stretch that made the game close.
The fact is, Los Angeles won.
"It was pretty, and then it got ugly," Clippers star Elton
Brand said. "It was a long time coming, and it was an important
win for the organization."
Brand had 21 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots in
the first postseason game of his career, veteran Sam Cassell added
19 points and seven assists, and the Clippers beat the Nuggets
89-87 Saturday night.
"They punched us in the mouth tonight, but we overcame our
nerves, and we're starting to get it," Clippers guard Cuttino
Anthony, the Nuggets' star, had 25 points and seven rebounds,
but shot just 9-of-26 and missed all eight shots he attempted in
the fourth quarter.
Game 2 will be played Monday night at Staples Center before the
best-of-seven, first-round series shifts to Denver for the third
and fourth games.
Chris Kaman added 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Clippers,
who led 87-77 after his three-point play with 4:10 remaining.
The Clippers have been one of the most unsuccessful franchises
in professional sports, qualifying for the playoffs only seven
times in their 36-year history. They're making just their fourth
postseason appearance since moving to California in 1978.
But things have changed, and that was never more obvious than
Saturday night, when they recorded their first postseason victory
since 1993 and just the 14th in franchise history.
"I was not concerned," Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor
said regarding the Nuggets' late rally. "In the past, we would
have folded. But I knew that Sam and Mobley would be up to the
Brand and six teammates made their postseason debuts. Brand
played in 526 regular-season games before appearing in a playoff
game -- the seventh-longest such streak in NBA history.
Teammate Corey Maggette ranks 13th on the list, having played in
444 regular-season games before making his postseason debut.
After Kaman gave the Clippers their 10-point lead, the Nuggets
scored the next 10 points -- the first four on foul shots by Anthony
and the final four by Miller following two turnovers -- to tie it at
87 with 1:08 left.
Radmanovic made his game-winning foul shots a few seconds later.
"It's a learning experience," Cassell said. "It's never good
to blow a 10-point lead. We got on-the-job experience. They
outhustled us, they made big-time basketball plays. They scrambled,
"It's not major things that win playoff games, it's small
things -- loose balls, deflections."
Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said his young players, "did great
-- just as I expected them to."
"I thought defensively we did well," he said. "It might have
been good for them to be in a situation with the lead and then have
a team come back and tie them up, but they still figured out a way
to win it."
The Clippers led by as many as 16 points late in the third
quarter. That's when Nuggets got more physical and were able to
sustain it, according to coach George Karl.
"Down 16 and wobbling, they never quit," he said. "I just
wish we could have gotten the lead. We've got to get better in the
next couple of days. My team played with a lot of heart, a lot of
courage. I think you win a lot of games like that in the
Anthony said he didn't have a good look at the game's final
shot, and credited the Clippers.
"It was a battle -- it was going back and forth. They hit us, we
hit them, they just hit us more than we hit them," he said. "I
feel really good about our chances in this series."
The Clippers were 47-35 this season -- the second-best
record in franchise history behind the 49-33 mark of the 1974-75
team that played in Buffalo. The franchise moved to San Diego in
1978 and to Los Angeles six years later. ... Denver's only turnover
of the first half was on basket interference by Martin with 1:27
left in the second period. The Nuggets committed seven in the game
to 15 for the Clippers. ... Broadcaster Ralph Lawler has called
2,113 regular-season Clippers games since being hired in 1978, but
only 14 in the postseason. "I think it's a great day for the
organization," he said. "Now, it's a matter of how far they can
go." ... The Nuggets lost in the first round of the playoffs each
of the past two years. Before that, they failed to qualify eight
straight years, and they haven't won a postseason series since
1994. ... Cassell entered these playoffs having appeared in 103
postseason games. Only five other players on the Clippers' roster
had appeared in the playoffs, playing in a total of 96 games.