Nuggets on the brink of first-round elimination
DENVER – Forget their lousy playoff history. These Los Angeles Clippers push back – and win.The Clippers ended a 13-year road playoff drought and moved within one victory of the franchise’s first series win in 30 years by beating the Denver Nuggets 100-86 Saturday night.Corey Maggette finished with 19 points and Elton Brand had 11 points and 10 rebounds to lead Los Angeles, which flustered Denver into five technical fouls and a few shoving matches while swaggering through the Nuggets on their own floor.”It’s a great feeling, but we can’t get lackadaisical. We have to come out with some fight,” Brand said. “I don’t know what else to say. When we get to the second round, it will be like, ‘Welcome to the party.”‘The Clippers shot 62 percent in the first half and matched the offense with stifling defense in the second as the Nuggets continued to struggle from the floor.”Without a doubt we didn’t do much different other than really start out quick. It was a great team effort. I love it,” Brand said. “Everybody was sharing the ball.”Denver shot 42 percent, the Nuggets’ best effort in the series but not nearly enough to match the Clippers. Carmelo Anthony led Denver with 17 points and 11 rebounds.Anthony was stunned after the loss, staring at the back of his locker with a towel draped over his head.”This right here really hurts, to lose on our home court the way we did,” Anthony said.The Clippers moved ahead 3-1 in the best-of-seven series and can clinch Monday night back home in Los Angeles. The Clippers haven’t won a playoff series since 1976, when as the Buffalo Braves they beat the Philadelphia 76ers in the opening round.The last time the Clippers won a road playoff game was when they beat Houston 95-83 on May 1, 1993 – before veteran point guard Sam Cassell even joined the league. The 36-year-old Cassell spent much of the game with an ice pack on his back on the Clippers’ sideline, but waved towels and cheered his much-younger teammates on to a dominant victory over the dispirited Nuggets.”They’re not my concern. My only concern is about my ballclub,” Cassell said. “We did an excellent job tonight.””Ol’ Pops” – as Cassell called himself – was no slouch, finishing with 11 points.Chris Kaman, treated with IV fluids for a virus earlier in the day, scored 12 points and showed the Clippers – who hadn’t been in the playoffs since 1997 – were hardly intimidated by the Nuggets, even in Denver.Kaman thought Denver’s Reggie Evans reached between his legs while going for a rebound and shoved Evans to the court at the whistle in the first quarter.Denver’s Ruben Patterson and Kaman were separated, but Patterson continued yelling and Kaman circled back toward Patterson before being led away again.”This is great for this organization,” Maggette said. “We have put in a lot of hard work to get here and it’s great.”The Clippers had that swagger all night and outscored the Nuggets 50-40 in the paint. Shaun Livingston had 16 points and six assists and Cuttino Mobley finished with 12 points for the Clippers. Vladimir Radmanovic had 14 points, making four of five 3-pointers.”It was great tonight, the guys were making shots from the outside, and our big men were in there passing out. That’s a team effort,” Maggette said.Marcus Camby had 14 points and three blocks for the Nuggets, who held the Clippers without a field goal for the first 4:31 of the third quarter but struggled nearly as much from the floor. On one possession, Camby missed a layup and Anthony pulled down the offensive rebound, only to have his putback attempt also bounce off the rim. It was that kind of night for the Nuggets, who haven’t made it past the first round since 1994.”It’s too early to go home,” Camby said.Any shooting droughts the Clippers had were short-lived. Los Angeles scored seven of the last 10 points in the third quarter and opened the final period by outscoring the Nuggets 9-1. Radmanovic opened the period with a 3 and Maggette followed with a jumper and the Clippers kept going from there.Anthony had 17 points before fouling out in a dramatic way, grabbing Brand’s foot and not letting go until several whistles later. Brand hopped a few steps on one leg to keep his leg muscles and tendons intact and had no hard feelings about the play.Once Anthony finally released his leg, Brand said “It’s all right” as he slapped Anthony’s hand before the Nugget left the court.Notes: The Clippers made 10 of their first 11 shots in the second quarter. … Greg Buckner made Denver’s first 3-pointer since Game 2 of the series when he hit from beyond the arc about 3 minutes into the game. … Evans was called for a lane violation two straight times as Brand missed the free throw on a three-point play attempt. He finally hit the third and Maggette followed with another three-point play to put the Clippers ahead 37-30 in the second quarter. … The Nuggets were without F Kenyon Martin, who was suspended indefinitely before Game 3.
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