DENVER – Never.
Not once in 36 years, one month and however many hours had Andre Miller ever hit a game-winner. He insisted. Not in 14 NBA seasons, not at the University of Utah, not at Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles.
“Never,” Miller said Saturday evening inside Pepsi Center, now that he had. “I’ve taken a couple and missed or turned the ball over.”
Not once in stops with the Cavaliers, Clippers, 76ers, Trail Blazers and two stints with the Nuggets had he been part of a team that won a playoff series. He didn’t have to insist. It was easy to check.
“Never,” Miller said anyway. “Never won a playoff series.”
He did not cross that off the list. But he did single-handedly move Denver a step closer, and it didn’t matter that Miller was smaller and older and likely slower than two defenders between the rim and a Nuggets victory. Andre Miller against the Warriors.
Andre Miller against all odds.
With the ball out of a Denver timeout with 14.5 seconds left in the first-round opener, point guard Miller first faced Golden State rookie Draymond Green, a player Warriors coach Mark Jackson called “an elite defender” and said, “I feel extremely comfortable putting him on anybody one through five.”
Thirty-six-year-old Miller beat the elite defender off the dribble. Heading to the basket with seconds remaining before overtime at 95-95, he saw another good defender, Andrew Bogut, coming to help. Just not quick enough.
Miller finished the driving layup with 1.2 seconds remaining to will, carry and lead the Nuggets to the 97-95 victory with the clutch score, a game-high 28 points in all, 11-for-16 shooting on a day when both teams struggled to find a rhythm on offense and never came close to the up-tempo matchup most envisioned. And, finally, the game-winner. Can’t forget the first game-winner.
That it took this long to break through is no more strange, though, than Miller being in position at all. He is a slow-lane guy on a team that loves to push the ball. He is the third guard in the backcourt that starts, now that Andre Igoudala has moved to small forward to replace the injured Danilo Gallinari, fourth-year man Ty Lawson and rookie Evan Fournier.
He is exactly the guy the Warriors should have wanted to see trying to out-quick them to the basket. Except they couldn’t counter his composure, the experience at using his body to get past the first wave of defense. That made it more than Miller’s first game-winner.
That made it Miller’s latest statement.
“His passing and his winning,” Nuggets coach George Karl said when asked why he has consistently stood behind Miller. “He’s an incredible play-maker. He loves to make people better, he loves to make his team better. When the game is in that guts-and-glory situation, Andre is pretty damn great. I see things you all never see in practice, even training camp and before the season. He has such a veteran savvy or mental savvy that makes your team connect, makes your team feel good about one another, makes your team team. We don’t have many veterans on this team, but Andre is one big-time veteran.”
The Warriors, with a slower pace in their favor, missed a chance to steal Game 1 and may have lost a lot more when All-Star power forward David Lee went out early in the fourth quarter with a strained right hip flexor, an injury apparently suffered on a hard fall under the basket. X-rays taken during the game were negative, which was encouraging, but Golden State was holding off on a prognosis for the rest of the series until after an MRI on Sunday.
Miller wouldn’t let the Nuggets lose, making seven of 10 shots and scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter. He got the win. He got the memory no one can take away from him.