PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference first round; Timberwolves lead 1-0.
With support that is seemingly strong enough to help him finally advance in the postseason, Garnett leads the Timberwolves as they try to build on an impressive opener against the Denver Nuggets.
Garnett had 30 points and 20 rebounds in Game 1, but Sam Cassell stole some of the spotlight with 40 points and clutch shooting. Cassell helped hold off the eighth-seeded Nuggets, scoring 12 points over the final nine minutes in Minnesota’s 106-92 victory.
Garnett has shouldered most of the blame for the Timberwolves’ past playoff failures, which include an NBA-record streak of seven straight first-round series losses. But he never had as much help as does entering this postseason.
“It’s beautiful,” Garnett said. “I attribute everything to Sam and Spree with the way I’ve played. I’m having fun. I have two guys that make me have fun, sometimes even when I don’t really want to.”
Cassell and Latrell Sprewell highlighted a series of summer acquisitions by the Timberwolves, and the trio accounted for 64 percent of their points this season.
“We’ve got a little bit more macho attitude toward the playoffs,” said swingman Wally Szczerbiak, one of only three holdovers on the postseason roster. “We know we got the No. 1 seed in the West and we know we beat some of the best teams to get it. That gives you a certain air of confidence.”
Rookie Carmelo Anthony had a quiet 19 points in his postseason debut for the Nuggets. Denver isn’t deflated, even after losing by 14 and trailing by as many as 22 in the third quarter.
The Nuggets, in their first playoffs since 1995, know they were beaten badly on rebounds, played poor defense against Cassell and took some questionable shots. Denver, though, cut Minnesota’s lead to five early in the fourth quarter before fading down the stretch.
The Nuggets are confident they can come back and steal the second game before the series shifts to Colorado.
“We know we can play with these guys,” Denver guard Jon Barry said. “It was a lot of guys’ first playoff experience. Now their feet are wet.”
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 fewer than 20 games.
Game 3 is Saturday in Denver.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Nuggets - 8th seed. Timberwolves - 1st seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Nuggets - Anthony and Camby, 19 ppg; Camby, 8 rpg; Earl Boykins, 5 apg. Timberwolves - Cassell, 40 ppg; Garnett, 20 rpg; Sprewell and Garnett, 4 apg.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Timberwolves, 3-1. Garnett averaged 25.3 points and 12.8 rebounds in the four meetings. Anthony scored 25 points in Denver’s only win, but averaged 12.3 in his team’s three losses and shot just 31.3 percent for the series. Denver had lost eight straight to Minnesota before winning 101-92 at the Pepsi Center on March 24.