LOS ANGELES -- David Lee was going at full speed and with all engines roaring; it just happened to be in the wrong gear and moving into all the wrong places.

How did the Warriors' power forward start Game 1 against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday?

Turnover, turnover, turnover, turnover (in the Warriors' first four possessions), got his shot blocked, was whistled for a free-throw lane violation, then got pulled from the game after less than three minutes had elapsed and the Warriors trailing 8-1.

Along the way, Lee took a deep breath and offered a heartfelt apology to coach Mark Jackson.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 19:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots over David Lee #10 and Jermaine O’Neal #7 of the Golden State
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 19: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots over David Lee #10 and Jermaine O'Neal #7 of the Golden State Warriors in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 19, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) (Stephen Dunn)

"I just said, 'Sorry for a few early mistakes, I'm kind of going a million miles an hour right now,' " Lee recalled Sunday before the Warriors' practice at UCLA. "I said, 'I'll settle in.' He said, 'I have no doubt about that.' And then I was able to settle in and play one of my better halves of the year, I think, in the second half, against a tough opponent."

Yes, he did, and that, in large part, is how the Warriors ended up with an upset 109-105 road victory that put them in some control of this playoff series with Game 2 set for Monday at Staples Center.

And it's exactly how Lee will have to play if the Warriors are going to stay in control, which is what got Lee so revved up in the first place.


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In the first healthy playoff series of his nine-season NBA career, and with Andrew Bogut injured, Lee is matched up against Clippers star Blake Griffin, and Lee is considered by some (me!) to be at an extreme disadvantage.

If Lee gets destroyed in this series, the Warriors will have almost no chance.

Just like in the first three minutes Saturday.

But when Jackson put him back into the game, Lee got rid of the jitters and started taking advantage of Griffin's foul trouble and the Clippers' determination to stop Stephen Curry.

Lee sliced to the basket, got the ball from Curry, then either finished strong or dished to open teammates while the Clippers scrambled to recover.

Defensively, Griffin was throttled by his foul trouble but also was less than effective in the late going against Lee on the post.

Suddenly, Lee was winning the power forward matchup. And the Warriors were winning the game.

"I know he's excited about the opportunity to be healthy and be playing," Curry said of Lee. "So he probably was amped up.

"But once he settled in, obviously he played amazing."

Lee ended up with 20 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists -- almost all coming in the third and fourth quarters.

That's the Lee plus-and-minus: He can put up numbers and occasionally his defense can drag down the Warriors' chances.

But when he's a "plus" player on both sides, he balances out everything and meshes beautifully with Curry.

In this series, with Bogut out, the Warriors desperately need a "plus" Lee performance. He can force Griffin to exert energy on defense and he can limit Griffin's swoops to the rim.

What can Lee do in this series? He can shut up his critics (me!) for a while by showcasing his talents exactly when they're most necessary.

This could be the reverse of the Warriors' first-round victory over Denver last season, accomplished after Lee was injured early in Game 1.

This season, Bogut is the key piece missing, and Lee is possibly the Warriors' second most valuable weapon against the Clippers, behind only Curry.

"This is his first real shot at contributing on the floor in a playoff atmosphere," Curry said. "I think that's all he's concerned about.

"I don't think he's worried about the critics or criticism he's received or that we play better without him, all this other nonsense."

Lee doesn't need to use the criticism as motivation, because if he plays well, all of that gets wiped out automatically.

Play well, his team has a great chance to advance, easy as that.

"No, not motivation," Lee said of the critiques. "I'd love to feed into it, but right now I'm literally going out, trying to do what I can do, I've got a very difficult matchup.

"I thought I did a pretty good job of taking care of it in Game 1. Tomorrow night's going to be another battle and I know he's going to come to play and so are the Clippers."

On Saturday, I saw Lee in the Warriors' locker room 90 minutes before the game and I could tell he was itching to blast off.

He had too much energy, too much motivation, too much everything to harness early on.

But then he did harness it -- now he's totally into the series, playing exactly like the Warriors always said and wished he could.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.