PHOENIX -- The Big Guy here to revive the Warriors and resume his NBA career after two surgeries on his left ankle took the court with his face projecting constant pain.
Then Andrew Bogut missed his first shot, a left-handed jump hook.
Bogut then made his next two shots, two layups, the first of which came off a long feed from Stephen Curry to finish a fast break, and the second came after Bogut stood near the top of the key, dribbled between his legs and drove to the basket.
That grimace remained, even though there was no detectable limp.
And it stayed with Bogut even as he scored eight points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked a shot in his 18-minute Warriors debut, an 87-85 victory over the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on Wednesday night.
"Probably just my silly face, I suppose," Bogut said. "But I was fine."
He looked like a guy who hadn't played in awhile, getting winded early, recovering and coming back. He took turns of rust and skill.
"It's been a long time coming for me," said Bogut, who fractured his left ankle last January while playing for Milwaukee and underwent surgery shortly thereafter, and then a follow-up arthroscopic procedure in April. "It's been nine months since I've played basketball competitively. I felt great, my body felt great."
He played well enough. His expressions just didn't project comfort.
"I thought he looked very good," coach Mark Jackson said of the 7-foot
Even as he is, wearing a brace around his ankle and up to his shin, Bogut looked like a man with the potential to be the best pure center this team has had since Nate Thurmond last wore the uniform 38 years ago.
The center Don Nelson always fantasized about but never had the chance to coach.
And yet Bogut sat for nearly the entire fourth quarter, partly because Carl Landry was so active and productive off the bench, finishing with 17 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes -- and partly because Jackson is being cautious with his big man.
"I'm not trying to get 82 games out of him tonight," Jackson said. "I'm just staying true to the process."
Bogut was not the reason the Warriors, despite taking a 17-point first-half lead, had such difficulty finishing off one of the few teams expected to finish lower in the Western Conference standings.
The Suns aren't very good now, and they won't be very good this season.
Yet even they can threaten the Warriors when Curry goes scoreless through three quarters and Phoenix power forward Luis Scola is administering lessons upon David Lee.
Two generally reliable shooters, Lee and
Shooting is supposed to be this team's strength. Everything we know about the players in the starting lineup indicates it will be, or at least should be.
In the season opener, though, it was a clearly improved bench that saved the Warriors. It was gritty play of Landry, the offense of wing Brandon Rush and the steady game of combo guard Jarrett Jack that allowed the Warriors to overcome forgettable nights from Curry and Lee.
"It was ugly," Jackson said. "But I remember when we would lose ugly games."
Well, yes, because losing -- no matter the veneer -- was a habit the Warriors have perfected over the years. They lost games during which they played well, lost games when they deserved to lose, lost games because they simply gagged away the final minutes.
Jackson said winning one like this, with two leaders basically off the map, is satisfying.
"But truth be told," he said, "we would lose this game last year."
This team has a lot of work to do before it can consider itself a playoff contender. There is Curry's development as a true point guard, Klay Thompson's comfort as a starting shooting guard, and Harrison Barnes making the adjustment to the NBA.
This team, for this season, will go only as far as the three captains -- Curry, Lee and Bogut -- take it.
And Bogut is the name in neon.
He knows it and welcomes it.
"I'll be fighting with the trainers to get more minutes," he said.
Bogut said he would have been upset if the Warriors had lost with him on the bench. Not to worry.
He did anyway -- at least on his face.
So when you see Bogut jogging up and down the floor, ignore his face. Watch instead his skills, his production, as he gets into condition. That, after all, is what really matters.