The sixth-seeded Clippers, who were left with homecourt advantage due to three more wins than the Northwest Division-champion Nuggets, blew a 16-point third quarter lead, but held on in the final seconds thanks to solid defense from Brand and two missed shots by Carmelo Anthony, one at the buzzer.
"We contested a lot of shots and limited them to fast break points," Brand said. "They outscrapped us to get back in it. It was a lot of fun. We really enjoyed this win."
Sam Cassell added 19 points and seven assists, while Cuttino Mobley tallied 17 points for the Clippers, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 1997, when they were swept by the Utah Jazz. Chris Kaman had a big second half and finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds for Los Angeles, which won its first postseason contest since beating Houston on May 5, 1993 in the first round.
In fact, the franchise hasn't won a playoff series since 1976, when they were the Buffalo Braves. That year, the team beat Philadelphia in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs before losing to the Boston Celtics in six games in the semifinals.
"I was pleased with our defense," Clippers head coach Mike Dunleavy said. "The tempo of the game is what we were looking for. They were physical like I thought they'd be. We had to make adjustments."
Anthony and Andre Miller each had 25 points to pace the Nuggets.
"Give the Clippers credit. They tried to take the ball out of my hands," Anthony said. "We missed shots we normally make. We kept fighting and kept competing. I feel very good about this series."
Game 2 of the best-of-seven set is scheduled for Monday night at the Staples Center.
Vladimir Radmanovic's two free throws gave the Clippers the lead at 89-87 with 59.8 seconds left. Anthony then tried to drive the lane, but had his shot blocked by Brand with 45 seconds left.
Radmanovic was called for an offensive foul at the other end, giving Denver the ball back with 24 ticks left.
Anthony missed a shot from the right wing, but Kaman deflected the ball out of bounds with 4.5 seconds remaining. Anthony then had the ball in the left corner, but under heavy pressure from Mobley rimmed a jumper as time expired.
The Clippers led 31-26 after the opening quarter and extended the margin to 54-45 at halftime. A Mobley three-pointer moved the Clipper lead to 74-58 with 4:01 left in the third.
Denver used a 12 straight points to get within 76-72 early in the fourth, as the Clippers went without a point for six minutes. Cassell ended that drought with a three and LA built an 87-77 cushion on Kaman's three-point play with 4:10 left. However, the Clippers hit another rut and the Nuggets tied the game at 87 on Miller's fastbreak layup with 1:08 left.
Marcus Camby had nine points and 10 rebounds for Denver...Anthony was 9-of-26 from the field...Denver had just seven turnovers to 15 for the Clippers...Brand also had eight rebounds and four blocks.