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NBA PLAYOFFS | FIRST ROUND

The Going Gets a Bit Rocky

The Clippers, who made it look easy in winning twice at home, stumble in a tightly called 94-87 Game 3 loss at Denver, cutting series lead to 2-1.

April 28, 2006|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — It wasn't what the Clippers expected, and that was exactly what the Denver Nuggets needed.

The Clippers figured they knew how their first-round playoff series against Denver would be officiated after winning the first two games at Staples Center, but things changed quickly Thursday night in Game 3, and guess who didn't adjust?

The result was a 94-87 victory for Denver at the Pepsi Center that cut the Clippers' lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Denver forward Carmelo Anthony scored a team-high 24 points to lead five Nuggets in double figures.

The Clippers, who were assessed 40 personal fouls, committed 24 turnovers and gave up 19 second-chance points, are now on notice.

Holding serve on their home court was good for them, but after the performance of the Nuggets and the referees in Game 3, it seems the Clippers still have plenty of heavy lifting to do.

"We just didn't adjust tonight," backup point guard Shaun Livingston said. "The first two games, the first game especially, [the referees] let things go.

"We were getting used to it, we thought this was how it's going to be called, and we were ready to battle. Then they come out tonight and call the game tight.

"But we also had a lot of turnovers and gave up a lot of second-chance points. I guess all of that's probably the story of the night."

It wasn't a story the Clippers enjoyed.

They came up short in their bid to win three consecutive postseason games for the first time in franchise history, and also squandered an opportunity to push the Nuggets to the brink of elimination.

In NBA history, no team has won a playoff series after losing the first three games, and the Nuggets understood the situation.

The Clippers did too, though their actions indicated otherwise at times.

"They just played harder than us ... they took it to us tonight," said point guard Sam Cassell, who had 20 points.

"I tried to warn my guys before tonight's game that, when a team is down, 0-2, and you're on the road, they're going to come out punching. They're feisty and they're nasty, and we just didn't match their intensity, but we still had a chance to win the game with everything."

Power forward Elton Brand, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, fouled out with 3:07 to play. Center Chris Kaman, playing with a sore right ankle, also was in foul trouble.

He missed five of six field-goal attempts, scored only two points -- one in the first three quarters -- and had four rebounds.

Still, the Clippers trailed, 89-87, on Kaman's layup with 2 minutes 16 seconds left in the game. But Anthony came right back with a basket inside that pushed the lead to 91-87 with 1:51 remaining. Coach Mike Dunleavy called a timeout with 1:06 on the game clock, and Livingston was called for a charge after the break.

The Clippers wouldn't score again, and the Nuggets put the finishing touches on a 32-for-46 free-throw performance.

"I'm not going to make excuses for myself," Kaman said. "All I'll say is I'm not 100%."

The Clippers gave up 19 fastbreak points, and the Nuggets had 13 offensive rebounds, but the referees also were among their problems, the Clippers said.

"We had our best players in foul trouble all night," Maggette said. "It hurt us."

It hurt the flow of the game as well. "Sometimes it's tight, and sometimes it's not," Kaman said. "Sometimes they let you get away with a lot more, and tonight they didn't let you get away with anything.

"Every time you turned around, they were calling a foul. There was just no rhythm in the game. It was just free throws and free throws, maybe one or two baskets, then free throws again. It slowed the whole game down big time."

Said swingman Cuttino Mobley: "As aggressive as Denver plays, they're calling fouls on us. It's funny."

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