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Timberwolves defeat Nuggets 106-92
Updated: 2004-04-19 13:31

Sam Cassell tied a career high with 40 points, Kevin Garnett put up 30 points and 20 rebounds and the top-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Denver Nuggets 106-92 on Sunday night in Game 1 of their first-round series.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Sam Cassell, right, and Denver Nuggets guard Earl Boykins, left, battle for a loose ball during the second quarter of their first game of the NBA first-round playoffs in Minneapolis, Sunday, April 18, 2004. [AP]
Garnett and the Timberwolves might have finally found their formula for postseason success with their clutch and savvy point guard.

Rookie Carmelo Anthony had a quiet 19 points in his postseason debut for the Nuggets, most of them in the second half with his team down by double digits.

Game 2 is at Target Center on Wednesday night.

Denver, making its first playoff appearance since 1995, didn't make it easy for Minnesota despite being outrebounded 48-35 and going 3-for-17 from 3-point range.

The Timberwolves, determined to end an NBA-record streak of seven straight losses in the opening round, had their 22-point lead in third quarter whittled to five early in the fourth.

But Cassell helped finish it off, scoring 12 points over the final nine minutes to stave off the eighth-seeded Nuggets.

Marcus Camby had 19 points and eight rebounds, and backup Earl Boykins had 16 points and five rebounds for Denver, the first team since the league implemented an 82-game schedule to make the playoffs a season after winning less than 20 games.

The Timberwolves weren't just winless in their previous seven playoff series, they had never even won a Game 1. Fed up with a 7-22 postseason record and sensing their chance to finally crack the Western Conference elite, they remade their roster over the summer and wound up with nine new players.

Cassell, who came in a trade with Milwaukee, was the big catch, largely because of his playoff experience. Sure enough, the motor-mouthed 34-year-old was in prime form Sunday night, directing traffic on the court, jawing with the refs and swishing jumpers from the wing.

Cassell scored 11 points in the first four minutes of the second half, sparking a 19-4 run that Garnett capped with an emphatic dunk to give the Wolves their biggest lead, 70-48.

Cassell made three 3-pointers during the spurt, high-stepping it back on defense after the second as the Nuggets quickly called a 20-second timeout.

The Wolves, who had 15 turnovers, got a little sloppy midway through the third quarter and held a not-so-comfortable lead for the next 10 minutes.

Jon Barry made Denver's first 3-pointer in 13 attempts, a 25-footer that cut the lead to 79-68 at the end of the third period. The Nuggets came within 80-75 on Francisco Elson's jumper with 9:41 remaining before the Wolves snapped out of their funk and finished off the victory.

The 19-year-old Anthony, who is the same age Garnett was when he debuted in 1995, is going to lose out to LeBron James in the Rookie of the Year voting. That doesn't, however, diminish his value to Denver, which dearly missed the kid they call 'Melo in the last half of the first quarter.

Anthony went to the bench after committing foul No. 2 with 6:17 left, seconds after Minnesota began a 17-2 run to open a 27-16 lead. The Nuggets, after making seven of their first nine shots, sputtered without him and found it difficult to get free against tough on-the-ball defense by the Timberwolves.

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