Nuggets survive scare from Clippers, L.A. maintains 2-1 series lead
DENVER ” The Denver Nuggets didn’t need their fiery forward to get back into their playoff series with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Playing without Kenyon Martin, who was suspended for insubordination, the Nuggets beat the Clippers 94-87 Thursday night behind Carmelo Anthony’s hard-fought 24 points.
The Nuggets will try to tie the series 2-2 Saturday night in Denver, after which Martin might be allowed to return to the team.
Marcus Camby added 12 points and 13 rebounds for Denver, which snapped a six-game losing streak since clinching its first division title in 18 years on April 10 in Portland.
Corey Maggette scored 23 points to lead the Clippers, who got 20 points from Sam Cassell and 17 from Elton Brand.
The Clippers never controlled the flow of the game as they had both times in Los Angeles, and a foul-filled third quarter kept either team from getting into any kind of rhythm to pull away.
Tied at 70 heading into the fourth quarter, the Nuggets seized momentum with a 10-3 run capped by Anthony’s 19-foot jumper, and Los Angeles never recovered.
The Clippers didn’t go down quietly, though. Brand sank a jumper and Cassell swished three free throws to keep it close.
Brand fouled out with 3:07 left, but Andre Miller missed both free throws with Denver clinging to an 89-85 lead.
Anthony’s layup with 1:51 left made it 91-87 and neither team scored again until Earl Boykins sank two free throws with 24 seconds left.
The Nuggets suspended Martin after he had a blowup with coach George Karl at halftime over his lack of playing time Monday night, then sat out the second half of the Nuggets’ 98-87 loss at the Staples Center with a towel over his head.
Martin issued an apology through the team Wednesday after he was suspended indefinitely, but Karl said he would miss at least two games, maybe more.
Martin’s latest run-in was met with a collective yawn this week from many of his teammates who practiced and played without him for much of the season as he struggled with tendinitis in his surgically repaired left knee, missing 26 games. The Nuggets won 19 of those.
Camby said at the team’s first practice without Martin that, “Guys were here who are committed to practice, who are committed to trying to change this series around.”
“Having three, four power forwards on our team, being so deep at that position, at this point it really doesn’t matter,” Anthony said of Martin’s forced hiatus.
Eduardo Najera got the start, with Francisco Elson and Reggie Evans rotating in to help cover Brand and center Chris Kaman, who played despite a sprained right ankle but managed just one basket.
Kaman, who scored 10 and 15 points in Los Angeles, didn’t score until 2:15 remaining and Brand shot just 6-of-15.
The third period featured 20 fouls, including a technical on Cassell for yelling at lead official Dick Bavetta.
Cassell committed his fourth foul on a questionable call with the Clippers trailing 56-54 with just under 6 minutes left in the third period. He stormed off the court and went straight to his seat, where he pulled on a black long-sleeve T-shirt to stay warm while complaining about the call to his teammates.
Denver didn’t capitalize on Cassell’s absence, however.
Los Angeles, which shot 5-of-19 in the first quarter and fell behind 24-13, scored the first 16 points of the second quarter, fueled by Maggette’s nine points. The Nuggets recovered and took a 45-42 lead into the locker room.
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