DENVER -- David Lee said, “I’m pretty good at keeping things inside.”
David Lee is not a convincing liar.
Lee said all the polite and noble things after learning that his season is over because of torn right hip flexor, incurred in the Warriors’ first possession of the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 97-95 loss to Denver in Game One of this Western Conference quarterfinal. He was congenial yet correct, disappointed yet not pouty. He definitely did not declare this series over after one game.
[GAME 1: Steinmetz on playoff inexperience | Bucher on final possession]
In sum, his first playoff experience ended after 29 difficult minutes, but he tried to be upbeat through all the interviews he gave at the Warriors’ Sunday practice. He wasn’t even using crutches to alleviate the persistent ache in his hip. He looked at a distance like someone who could play in Game Two, even though he knew as soon as he injured the leg Saturday that he could not.
“There wasn’t a lot of pain,” he said. “I’ve had strains and pulls and things like, and this wasn’t like that. But as soon as I heard the pop, I knew. I prayed that it would be good news (after his MRI), but I knew.”
But when he walked from place to place, when he thought nobody was looking, his mouth tightened, and he winced when he landed and pushed off the right leg. It wasn’t overt, but it was noticeable. He was done, and he was angry about it.
That, though, isn’t the real problem for the Warriors as they face the Nuggets again in Game Two Tuesday night. The real problem is that he is leaving just as Denver’s Kenneth Faried has declared himself ready and raring to go in Game Two. Denver got better as Golden State got worse, and at a very bad time for the visitors.
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Oh, the Warriors will do some things to fill in those minutes. Carl Landry, Draymond Green, maybe Harrison Barnes as a stretch four in hopes that the Warriors can try to outrun the running Nuggets. They can throw all the preparations out and try and reinvent themselves on the fly.
But they really can’t, and they won’t. Stephen Curry may be the drink that the straws rest in, but the Warriors’ 11-rebound edge in Game One just disappeared. They can throw out everything, or they can tweak what they were doing with Lee, but they are still stuck with the same harsh truth.
Denver got deeper as Golden State got shallower. And Denver was already deeper than any other team in the postseason.
The Nuggets did not exactly choke-slam Game One, a point Mark Jackson raised several times in his Sunday sermon. They needed Andre Miller to pretend he wasn’t 37 years old to cover their own multitude of sins, and even at that won only by two because he beat Green off the dribble and got to the basket before Andrew Bogut could provide help. The margin was indeed that thin.
But Game One might have been the outlier, and the proof will be Game Two. This will not be a dead sprint to the finish, wherever the finish line happens to stand, because playoff basketball defies such precipitate tempos. Playoff games grind. The Warriors made Game One a grind and nearly won it.
But without Lee, and facing Faried, the dynamic has changed radically. What the Warriors do to face that change makes their already uphill climb a sprint up Pike’s Peak.