DENVER -- The Warriors surely will be able to move past losing the lead and then the game, but losing their All-Star will be another matter entirely.
The loss of power forward David Lee is a much more devastating blow than the 97-95 defeat hung on them by Denver in Game 1 of this first-round playoff series Saturday at Pepsi Center.
As much as it hurt the Warriors to watch molasses-slow Andre Miller score the winning basket with 1.2 seconds left, teaching coach Mark Jackson and rookie Draymond Green lessons they'll never forget, the real and lasting agony was in seeing Lee knocked out of the game and perhaps the series.
Driving to the hoop early in the fourth quarter, Lee took a blow from Nuggets center JaVale McGee and landed with a thud. He eventually rose and limped to the line to shoot free throws but left the game immediately afterward with what was diagnosed as a right hip flexor strain. X-rays were negative.
His teammates clearly were affected, particularly backup power forward Carl Landry, who can expect to play more than the 23 minutes he played in Game 1.
"I just have to be ready, just like before today," Landry said. "No matter who coach puts out there on the floor, we all have to be ready. That's the mindset we have right now.
"But it's still too early to tell if he can't or can play."
Perhaps it is. But Lee so anticipated this day, his playoff debut after eight seasons, that he told Jackson before the game that it felt like an eight-year bus ride. As a decorated veteran, he knows the significance of this. If he couldn't return to this game, it's hard to imagine he'll be sufficiently recovered to be on the court for Game 2 on Tuesday night.
And if Lee can't return for Game 2, the Warriors easily could be down two games to none, limping back to Oracle Arena for Game 3 next Friday.
To those thinking the Warriors will play better defense, yes, quite likely. But the margin of improvement won't be as large as that by which they will be worse on offense.
Lee's absence means more Landry, which diminishes a bench that needs to give all it can against an energy team like the Nuggets. It likely means more time for Green, as well as fellow rookie Harrison Barnes.
The upshot of losing Lee (10 points, 14 rebounds in defeat) is that the underdog in this fight -- No. 6 seed Warriors vs. third-seed Denver -- just got considerably more "under."
"It is unfortunate," Jackson said of the likely loss of Lee. "He is certainly a highlight guy for us, somebody we count on.
"At the same time, we prepared all season long. We believe in our guys, top to bottom. So we feel comfortable and confident in whoever has to step up in his place."
Fact is, the Warriors don't have another Lee. Landry comes closest, but he can't run like Lee, nor can he score as consistently. Lee has his faults, plenty of them, but he brings something no one else does.
The Warriors owned the boards Saturday partly because Lee grabbed 14 rebounds in 28 minutes. They slowed a Nuggets team wired to sprint partly because Lee, hardly at his best, did enough to offset Denver forward Wilson Chandler. They silenced the crowd and led by as much as nine (48-39) largely because they had enough depth to run with the Nuggets.
In a second quarter dominated by the Warriors, Klay Thompson (13 points) supplied most of the offense, and Lee (six points, five rebounds) filled in most of the gaps.
They put themselves in position to win a game on the road, which is the goal of every visiting team opening the playoffs. They lost at the end when Miller, 37, snaked past Green -- defending by default; Miller had torched Jarrett Jack -- and under Andrew Bogut for a layup, the last of his season-high 28 points.
The Warriors might not another chance like this, winning the rebounding battle by 10 (55-45), with Denver starting power forward Kenneth Faried sidelined and the Nuggets shooting 64.3 percent from the line.
And if they do get another chance, they likely will have to find a solution without their All-Star.
Contact Monte Poole at email@example.com.