A big counterpunch was needed for the Denver Nuggets to avert a difficult situation in a first-round playoff series against the Clippers.
Well, the Nuggets swung hard and missed, so guess who's on the ropes now?
The Clippers rose to the occasion in a 98-87 victory Monday night in Game 2, absorbing the Nuggets' shot and delivering more effective blows at Staples Center.
Cuttino Mobley scored 21 points, Elton Brand had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Sam Cassell contributed 13 points and 11 assists as the Clippers took a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
In NBA history, teams taking 2-0 leads have won 94.6% of postseason series.
And Denver has started 0-2 in nine playoff series, winning only once.
Those statistics could signal trouble for the Nuggets, and the beginning of something big for the Clippers, who led by 25 points in the first half and 56-34 at halftime.
How bad were the Nuggets in the first two quarters? With only 13 points in the first quarter and 34 at halftime, Denver scored the fewest points in each by an opponent in Clipper postseason history.
Granted, the Clippers' playoff history isn't much to speak of, but you get the point.
"We still had some lulls, and we were disappointed with poor shot selection at times," Brand said. "But other than that, we played great. We're proud of the Clippers tonight."
All five starters scored in double figures, and Corey Maggette had a big game off the bench with 12 points and six rebounds.
Again, the Clippers had the answer for forward Carmelo Anthony, limiting the Nuggets' No. 1 option to 16 points on five-for-15 shooting. The Nuggets failed to shoot at least 40% for the second time in as many games in the series, finishing at 34.2%.
"We had great focus defensively in the first quarter, and we got off to a great start," Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "Our guys did it on both sides of the ball."
Said Denver Coach George Karl: "The whole first half was bad. Their entire team played well. Usually, it's just a two-man game on offense with Brand and Cassell, but that wasn't the case tonight."
Quinton Ross continued to harass Anthony, who was scoreless in a foul-plagued first half.
In the first two games, Anthony has made only 14 of 41 shots.
In addition to Anthony's poor performance, the Nuggets' fastbreak has stalled.
Denver, which averaged an NBA-leading 20.2 fastbreak points during the season, produced 10 points with its running game in Game 1 -- only two after halftime.
The Nuggets had even fewer opportunities to run Monday, finishing with six fastbreak points compared to 10 for the Clippers.
The Clippers gave up the fewest fastbreak points in the league, 9.79, so they expected to challenge the Nuggets in that area. But so far, the Clippers have been operating at a new level.
"The biggest thing is that we came out with poise," Maggette said. "We went out there and did what we know we can do. We know we can beat this team, so we just have to be patient and execute what we have to do."
They've been especially effective against Anthony, who averaged 26.5 points, eighth in the NBA, during the regular season.
"It's a collective effort," Brand said. "If you're an All-Star-caliber player, no one person can shut you down.
"We're trapping him, we're shading him to the baseline and helping out. It's worked for us. It's worked very well for us."
Everything worked well for the Clippers on Monday, as exemplified by Mobley's 35-foot three-pointer that banked in to beat the first-half buzzer, ending a half that was among the team's best this season.
The series shifts to Denver's Pepsi Center for Games 3 and 4 Thursday and Saturday, and the Nuggets' margin for error is shrinking quickly.
"I don't know if we're confident right now, but they will be on Thursday," Karl said. "Confidence can change in a practice and a game."
The Clippers, who set a franchise record with 20 road victories this season, said they're ready.
"Down, 0-2, we know they are going to be revved up," Brand said. "We have to go out there and win one."