LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Los Angeles Clippers played about as well as possible in the first quarter Monday night.
The Denver Nuggets never recovered.
The Clippers took command in the opening period, shooting 13-of-20 and committing one turnover in taking a 32-13 lead. The Nuggets shot 6-of-24, including 0-of-6 from 3-point range, and were outrebounded 15-10.
“We started off with great energy and focus,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said.
The Nuggets weren’t closer than the final margin after that.
“The first quarter was big for us—not only offensively, but defensively,” said Sam Cassell, who had 13 points and 11 assists.
Added Brand: “It was the kind of start that we need to have.”
Mobley and Cassell joined the Clippers this season, giving them a veteran backcourt to go with a young, talented frontcourt.
Mobley said he believes the Clippers are peaking at the perfect time.
“I hope so. I don’t want to jinx us,” he said with a smile. “We’ve got a lot of solid guys on the team. We jumped on them early, set the tempo.”
The best-of-seven series moves to Denver for Game 3 Thursday night and Game 4 Saturday night.
“The great thing about the NBA is confidence comes in a one-game winning streak a lot of times,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “That’s what we need — a one-game winning streak.”
They probably won’t get it with another start like Monday night’s.
“We came out flat in the first two games, and it’s tough to play perfect to get back into the game,” Denver’s Earl Boykins said.
The Clippers, in the postseason for the first time in nine years, perhaps had a point to prove early in this game—at least to themselves. They blew a 10-point lead in the last four minutes before winning the opener 89-87, and with seven of their 12 active players making their postseason debuts, there was a case for playoff jitters down the stretch.
There were no such problems in Game 2.
Teams taking 2-0 leads in the NBA playoffs have won 176 times in 186 opportunities—94.6 percent. So at least on paper, things look bad for the Nuggets, in jeopardy of being eliminated in the first round for a third straight year.
“We will not be overconfident,” Brand said. “Sam and I will not let that happen.”
The Clippers shot 47.5 percent to Denver’s 34 percent. Los Angeles is 28-1 when holding the opposition under 40 percent this season.
“The defense was superb,” Cassell said. “We’ve had a solid defensive team all year—it’s nothing new for us.”
Marcus Camby led the Nuggets with 16 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. Carmelo Anthony, who played less than 6 1/2 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, scored all 16 of his points in the second half. Boykins, Greg Buckner and Andre Miller added 14 points apiece.
The Clippers scored the first six points of the second quarter, giving them a 38-13 lead after less than 15 minutes had been played. It was 56-34 at halftime thanks to Mobley’s 3-pointer from about 35 feet away just before time expired.
Anthony scored his first nine points to spark a 16-6 Denver run to open the third quarter, cutting the Clippers’ lead to 62-50. But the Clippers responded with a 10-2 spurt capped by Shaun Livingston’s flying dunk and free throw, making it 72-52.
It was 75-59 entering the fourth quarter, and the Clippers scored the first seven points of the final period for a 23-point lead.
Anthony picked up two fouls in the opening 4:52 of play, and a third 90 seconds into the second quarter. He missed all four shots he tried in the first half.
“It’s a bad hand you’re dealt when your best player is in foul trouble and you’re down 15 and 20 points,” Karl said.
Clippers F Vladimir Radmanovic played despite his sprained left wrist, and had eight points and six rebounds in 21 minutes. He took an acupuncture treatment Sunday that lasted about an hour. “You can feel it right away—big pain relief,” he said. … The Nuggets’ first quarter and halftime point totals were their lowest of the season, and established Clippers playoff records. … The Nuggets are trying to win a postseason series for the first time since 1994. They’ve lost 14 of their last 16 playoff games. … The Clippers have won only one postseason series in their history—30 years ago, when the franchise was playing in Buffalo. They have home-court advantage in a playoff series for the first time ever. … Denver’s Kenyon Martin bruised his left knee early in the second quarter and didn’t return. He played seven scoreless minutes. … Ruben Patterson replaced Buckner in Denver’s starting lineup and had just two points in 20 minutes.