Karl's way gets the win ... for now

DENVER -- George Karl has done it the other way.

He's been the coach of plenty of teams where there's no question which player is getting the ball at the end of the game. For his first-round opponent, the Golden State Warriors, everybody in the arena knows Stephen Curry is taking the last shot, and probably the last six or seven shots when things get close.

Karl just prefers it a different way: The way the Nuggets went out and won a franchise-record 57 games during the regular season, and again on Saturday, in a 97-95 win over the Warriors in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series at the Pepsi Center.

The Nuggets don't have a designated go-to guy, they don't even have a hierarchy of who should take the big shot. They have six or seven players who could be that guy, but prefer to let the game dictate who finds themselves in that role on any given night.

Saturday it was 37-year-old veteran Andre Miller of all people, who scored 18 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning layup with 1.3 seconds remaining. But it could just as well have been Ty Lawson or Wilson Chandler or Andre Iguodala.

"I guarantee they [the Warriors] didn't know we were going to Andre Miller for a game winner on an iso," Lawson said. "I heard the other team on the bench going, 'Make sure Ty doesn't get the ball!' So Curry's up on me, but the whole time we were going to Andre.

"It's tough to game plan against that."

That's Karl's theory, anyway, a theory after four decades on an NBA sideline and 1,131 career wins.

And it's going to get put to the test in these playoffs.

Another first-round exit would be a huge disappointment for the Nuggets after how well they've done this season. The Nuggets have made the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons but have only advanced past the first round once -- they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 Western Conference Finals. Karl has been on the bench for seven of those eight first-round exits. Carmelo Anthony was there for six of them.

"I'm not into the one-guy thing," Karl said. "I think you win so many games on extra possessions and good defensive plays and steals and deflections. What we watch on TV every night are guys who make shots.

"But I just watched the last five minutes of all the Warriors' close games. There's some great shots. They have some cute stuff. But the offensive rebound was more prevalent."

Karl's been through too much in his life to get defensive over a line of questioning, even one he's answered a hundred times already.

He clearly wishes people could see things the way he does, that highlights of hustle plays and steals and offensive rebounds should make up every "SportsCenter" highlight. But he gets why they don't.

This is just how he likes it. There will be no apologies.

"Coach thinks outside the box," Lawson said. "He [saw] everybody was grouping up [like the star-heavy teams in Los Angeles, Miami and Oklahoma City] and he was like, 'Man, if we can get Wilson, Gallo [Danilo Gallinari], Ray Felton, all right, cool. We'll do it this way.' "

Five players scored in double figures for the Nuggets on Saturday. Miller had 28 on 11-of-16 shooting. Lawson had 12 points, four assists, five rebounds and a critical steal off Curry to put Denver up 95-92 with 35.7 seconds to go. Rookie Evan Fournier had 11 points and Chandler had 11 points and 13 rebounds. Iguodala finished with eight points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Miller is in his second run with the Nuggets after playing four seasons in Denver from 2003-07. He's by far the oldest guy in the locker room now.

And things are noticeably different the second time around.

"When I was here before, we had Carmelo," Miller said. "He was a big-time scorer and a big-time player, so you had to give him the ball.

"This situation now, you have different guys who can step up. And you have different guys who enjoy playing defense, and then getting out in the open court. There are six or seven guys on this team who can get it going, and that you can rely on to make plays."

Miller and Karl go back to Miller's college days at Utah, as Karl was close friends with Utes coach Rick Majerus.

Like Karl, the postseason hasn't been kind to Miller. He's never made it out of the first round in eight trips to the playoffs over his 14 NBA seasons.

But after Curry had done what Curry does, hitting a clutch 3-pointer over Lawson to tie the game at 95 with 14.5 seconds to go Saturday afternoon, Miller was ready for the moment.

"He's an incredible playmaker. He loves to make people better, he loves to make his team better," Karl said of Miller. "But when the game is in that 'guts and glory' situation, Andre is pretty damn good.

"I see things that you all never see in practice and even in training camp. He has such a veteran savvy, a mental savvy that makes your team connect and feel good about one another. Makes your team trust. We don't have many veterans on this team, but Andre is one big-time veteran."

It was one game in a series that has the makings of a close one. They may not all end up this way.

Curry won't miss his first nine shots very often. The Nuggets still don't know how much -- if anything -- they'll get from Kenneth Faried, who dressed but didn't play Saturday as he recovers from an ankle injury.

And just about every guy in both locker rooms admitted to being tired after the game. Lawson was so drained from chasing Curry around all day, he sat at his locker for nearly an hour after the game, too tired to even hit the showers.

But for one night at least, Karl's way was a winner.