The Clippers won their first home playoff game in nearly a decade as they beat the Nuggets 89 to 87 Saturday night. Clippers guard Cuttino Mobley summed this game up perfectly when he told reporters that, “they punched us in the mouth tonight, but we overcame our nerves, and we're starting to get it.”
Mobley’s backcourt mate, Sam Cassell, backed this statement up when he told reporters that, “it's a learning experience. It's never good to blow a 10-point lead but we got on-the-job experience. They out-hustled us, they made big-time basketball plays. They scrambled, we didn't. It's not major things that win playoff games, it's small things -- loose balls, deflections.”
Basketball is known as a game of spurts but this game saw both teams take turns going on runs throughout the game. The Clippers started off the game slowly was they went 4-8 from the field to start the game but they regrouped and went 11-11 from the field which allowed them to open up a 64 to 52 lead. Because of this rally in particular the Clippers were able to build a double digit lead that acted like a “buffer” throughout the rest of the game that allowed them to stay in control whenever Denver would make a push.
This series is looking like it’s going to be a scrappy, hard fought series and leading the way were Andre Miller and Sam Cassell who were engaged in a great battle throughout the game. Miller was able to get to the rim at will in the first quarter and he had three lay-ups in the opening frame. Miller was able to finish the game with 25 points and 6 dimes. The true test for Miller isn’t how well he can score the ball in this series, it’s if he can get his team playing the uptempo kind of basketball they need to play to be successful. Far too often tonight the Nuggets were forced to run their half court offense but for the team to win this series they need to get our and run and score some easy fastbreak baskets.
Everyone’s favourite alien, Cassell, wasn’t going to be showed up in his home arena and he scored 8 of the Clippers first 14 points and had 2 dimes in the opening quarter. At times it looked like he was more worried about entertaining the fans as he was shown joking with fans during breaks in play and he was shown joking around with his former coach George Karl at one point. Heading into the game Cassell told reporters that, “people don’t realize what I bring to the table. Imake teams battle. I make guys better. That was my whole push and now we are in the playoffs.” You can knock the methods of Cassells success but the bottom line is the kid wins games. He’s helped the Clippers return to the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade and he was a big part of their win Saturday night. You can knock his style of play and you can claim that he’s selfish but the bottom line is the kid wins ball games.
As a basketball fan one of the biggest stories of the night was Carmelo Anthony’s inability to get into a groove against the Clippers. The Clips had Quinton Ross guarding Melo and he just couldn’t get loose tonight. Melo finished the game with 25 points but went 1-5 from the field in the opening quarter and finished the game shooting 9 for 26 from the field. He looked frustrated throughout the game and it looks like George Karl’s going to need to work on some plays to free up his star player for some easier looks.
Before the playoffs started I pegged Reggie Evans as one of my players to watch and he made me look like a genius last night. Evans saw a quick hook from the game during his first shift - Marcus Camby was shown shrugging his shoulders when Evans asked why he got yanked from the game so quickly - but it served to motivate the young forward. Evans finished the game 8 rebounds in just 14 minutes of playing time and served as a big spark for his team in the second half.
The Clippers were able to hold off numerous rallies by the Nuggets to earn the win but it’s clear this series will be a battle and the victor will limp away banged up for the second round of the playoffs.
Sun 04/23/06, 8:29 am EST