Minneapolis The playoffs started, and Sam Cassell simply was clutch -- the exact reason Minnesota wanted him.
Cassell tied a career high with 40 points, Kevin Garnett put up 30 points and 20 rebounds, and the top-seeded Timberwolves beat Denver, 106-92, Sunday night in Game 1 of their first-round series.
"You pick your poison," Cassell said. "You double-team me, and the guy next to me can really go off."
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 Wednesday night at Target Center.
"He's going to be real good," Garnett said of Anthony. "Game 2 is going to be even tougher."
Denver, making its first playoff appearance since 1995, didn't make it easy for Minnesota despite going 3-for-17 from three-point range and getting outrebounded 48-35.
"There's a saying: No rebounds, no rings," said Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik, whose team couldn't attack like it usually does because of the Wolves' dominance inside. "If you can't get the ball on the board, then you can't get out and run."
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 stave off the eighth-seeded Nuggets, scoring 12 points over the final nine minutes.
"You just play ball, man," Cassell said. "If I get it going, I'm going to shoot the ball."
Marcus Camby had 19 points and eight rebounds 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.
"We're not down on ourselves," said guard Voshon Lenard. "There's a lot of guys tonight that never played in a playoff game, and they got a taste of that."
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.
"He gets into that midrange area, and he's going to knock down the shot," said Andre Miller, who guarded Cassell most of the game. "And then he starting hitting threes."