DENVER – David Lee clutched at his right hip, hardly able to put any weight on his leg as he tried to scramble back down the court to play defense.
The painful grimace on his face told the story — this wasn't good.
Just when the Golden State Warriors got one big man back in Andrew Bogut, they lose their best post player. Lee went down with a strained right hip flexor early in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 97-95 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of their playoff series. He will soon undergo an MRI to find out the severity.
Call it a big loss before a stinging defeat.
Andre Miller hit a driving layup with 1.2 seconds remaining as the Nuggets held on for their 24th straight win at the Pepsi Center.
Golden State did everything it intended, too. The Warriors kept up with the fast-paced Nuggets — even in the higher elevation — and silenced a capacity crowd that cheered the Nuggets to an NBA-best 38-3 home record in the regular season.
Until the end, that is, when Miller's shot sent the fans into euphoria. Game 2 is Tuesday night in Denver.
"Tough loss," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "But I thought we did some things very well.
"What I told my team is that I don't think anybody came in thinking sweep of the Denver Nuggets. It's not over. Take the blow, be ready to make the adjustments and respond."
Whether Lee will be in the lineup remains uncertain. He was trying to get around JaVale McGee for a layup when he was fouled and fell awkwardly to the floor.
Lee made one of two free throws but his leg buckled with each step he took to get back on defense. Finally, he had to be escorted to the bench and then headed into the locker room.
That look, the one etched on Lee's face, only heightened Stephen Curry's concern.
"You're always worried about your teammate," said Curry, who finished with 19 points. "For him not to be able to finish the game, you knew it was something."
Lee was having quite a game, too, scoring 10 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. His team was down six when he hobbled off the court, but that hardly deterred the Warriors.
Instead, Bogut stepped up, scoring six of his nine points in the fourth quarter to help the team hang around.
Curry, who missed his first nine shots of the game, finally found his touch at an ideal moment. He hit a 3-pointer in the corner — with Ty Lawson's hand in his face — to tie it at 95 with 14.5 seconds left.
After a timeout, the Nuggets drew up a play for Miller, one that would allow him to read and then react to Golden State's defense. He took a step to his right just to freeze Draymond Green and then drove to the hoop, laying the ball in between two defenders.
Curry's last-second heave was well off the mark.
It was Miller's first game-winning shot of his career. He finished with 28 points.
"I thought I had him contained," Green said. "Maybe a half a centimeter over he can't get around me. He's a very crafty guy. Got to give him credit, but I've got to do whatever I could do to come up with the stop."
As for Lee, well, Jackson is hoping for some good news Sunday when an MRI is performed. An X-ray at the arena was negative.
"It's unfortunate," Jackson said. "He is certainly a highlighted guy for us, somebody we count on."
Lee was looking forward to the first playoff series of his career, chatting with Jackson just the other day about how he couldn't wait.
"Getting off the bus with (David) Lee and he said, 'This is the longest bus ride I've had,'" Jackson recounted. "I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'It's been an eight-year bus trip to get to this place,' These guys have been playing a whole career waiting for this moment. They deserve it."
Bogut didn't play in any of the four games against the Nuggets this season because of his left ankle. He certainly had a presence in this contest, altering shots and grabbing 14 rebounds.
The Nuggets aren't exactly a favorable matchup for Bogut, who's usually more effective against centers such as Dwight Howard or Tim Duncan, not teams who fly up and down the court.
"I thought we had a very good performance of executing our game plan," Jackson said. "We made plays, we made shots, we defended.
"We put ourselves in a position to win the ball game but unfortunately, we fell short."
The Warriors arrived into town two days early, not so much to acclimate to the altitude as to escape the spotlight. Jackson doesn't want the moment to overwhelm his young squad.
Then again, he thinks they're playing with "house money" in this series anyway.
"We're going to roll this dice and have fun with it. Nobody expects us and that's OK," he said. "If I was picking, I'd pick them to win it. I'd pick them to win this series. I'd give them the edge at coaching, too."
Will the elevation or crowd be a factor?
"We've watched every bit of film and I haven't seen the altitude score and I haven't seen a fan score or rebound," Jackson said. "At the end of the day, credit goes to that coaching staff led by George Karl and that group of players. Win, lose or draw, it won't be because of the fans or the altitude."
NOTES: Golden State G Klay Thompson led the team with 22 points. He's the youngest Warriors player to score more than 22 in a playoff game since Rick Barry had 44 points on April 24, 1967, at age 23. ... The Nuggets were without top rebounder in Kenneth Faried (ankle). ... Denver took three of four from the Warriors in the regular season.
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