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Cassell's clutch free throws lift Clippers over Nuggets

Nov 3, 2006 - 7:15 AM LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Sam Cassell can sell a foul with the best of them. But his attempt to do so almost backfired.

Cassell scored 35 points, including the game-winning foul shots with 12 seconds left, as the Los Angeles Clippers rallied to edge the Denver Nuggets, 96-95.

Offseason acquisition Tim Thomas added 21 points and sank three 3-pointers in the last three minutes for the Clippers, who ended their eight-game losing streak in home openers, which was the longest in the NBA.

"This kind of win we are going to need later down the stretch," Thomas said. "It goes a long way and gives us confidence to know that you can get it done in those crucial times."

Los Angeles erased a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to take a 94-93 lead on a 3-pointer by Thomas with 36 seconds to go.

"Tim hit those big shots and I am glad he is on our side," Clippers forward Elton Brand said. "Those were big-time clutch shots."

Following an empty possession by the Nuggets, Cassell stumbled trying to bait the referee into a foul call against J.R. Smith.

Cassell lost the ball as he was pivoting to pick up his dribble, allowing Smith to go in uncontested for a two-handed slam with just 18 seconds remaining. Smith had 21 points in his Denver debut.

On the ensuing possession, Cassell induced rookie Yakhouba Diawara into a foul and calmly drained a pair of free throws, giving Los Angeles a 96-95 lead.

"I can always make free throws," Cassell said. "I am up there by myself and there is no one to block my shot. The shot is easy."

Andre Miller, who missed all 11 of his shots, had his layup blocked out of bounds by Shaun Livingston on the other end, leaving just six seconds. Earl Boykins' off-balance jumper from the left elbow failed to hit rim just prior to time expiring.

"In those final 12 seconds we got both the shots we wanted," Denver coach George Karl said. "We wanted Andre to the rim and I thought he got fouled on the play. Then we were giving the ball to Earl and let him go quick or take a flat shot. I thought we got great shots on both plays."

Marcus Camby collected 16 points and 18 rebounds and Boykins and Carmelo Anthony, who was ejected for tossing his headband in the direction of an official in the third quarter, both added 15 points for the Nuggets, who shot just 39 percent (34-of-88) from the field.

"Obviously the referees have new edicts that we have to figure out," Karl said. "And unfortunately we get stuck with a game we would have won with Melo. The whole thing comes down that we have to play to these edicts. We have to be a little smarter and a little more mature. On the road, you have to have poise that overcomes frustrations."

Anthony, who refused to speak to the media, was another player to fall victim to the zero tolerance rule implemented by the league about players whining about calls.

The Nuggets, who failed to avenge a five-game series fall to the Clippers in the Western Conference playoffs, were the last team to make their season debut.

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