A dejected Smith, thinking the game was over and the Denver Nuggets were on the short end, began walking off the court. Then, he caught sight of an official signaling he had been fouled by Ellis.
"I didn't think they were going to call it but I saw the ref with his hand up, and I am thankful that he did call it," Smith said.
One of four Nuggets to finish with at least 20 points, Smith hit two free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining to lift the Nuggets to a 123-122 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.
The officials ruled Ellis made contact with Smith as he was throwing up the desperation 3-pointer an instant after taking an inbounds pass from Kenyon Martin.
Ellis, who had 32 points, including a 10-foot turnaround jumper with 15.2 seconds remaining to give Golden State its last lead, declined to comment on the foul call.
Warriors coach Don Nelson wouldn't comment directly on the call but said his squad lost a game they deserved to win.
"You lose at the buzzer, it's tough," he said. "Bad teams just don't get breaks. Let's face it, you just don't get breaks. That was our game. We played our hearts out, and I can't ask any more than what my team gave me."
Martin had a season-high 27 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Nuggets, who were without injured stars Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Andersen. They also lost Ty Lawson to an ankle injury during the game, and after the game, team officials said Nene had aggravated a sprained ankle during the fourth quarter. The availability of Lawson and Nene was described by the team as "day to day."
"I thought we fought really hard to win the game and fortunately we did," Denver coach George Karl said. "With all the guys we have banged up, we can remember this win and the Utah win [last week] very highly in the future. You don't always win the right way or perfectly."
Down by two entering the final period, the Warriors had an 11-0 run that put them up 113-109 with 4:10 remaining.
Smith connected on an 18-foot jumper to give Denver a 109-102 lead but Maggette hit a pair of free throws, Ellis drove in for successive layups and Curry hit a 3-pointer. Trying to break up the Warriors' string, the Nuggets' Lawson drove to the net but couldn't get a shot away in a traffic and dumped the ball off behind his back, falling hard on his left ankle. He limped off the court to the locker room and the team said he sprained his left ankle and would not return.
The Warriors picked up the loose ball and started a fastbreak that Maggette finished with a layup for a 113-109 advantage.
With 1:51 remaining, the Warriors led 120-115 but the Nuggets scored the next six points, going in front 121-120 when Martin rebounded a missed shot by Joey Graham and put it in. Ellis countered with his jumper seconds later to give the Warriors their final lead.
Graham missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds and a scramble for the ball led to a jump ball won by Arron Afflalo, who got it to Smith. The Nuggets called a timeout with 1.4 seconds left before getting the ball in to Smith. Officials reviewed the call and determined Ellis fouled him with 0.4 seconds remaining. Smith hit the first two throws, missing his final attempt.
"It was wild," Martin said of the game's final moments. "I'm glad I was on that end of it, not the other."
Coming through at the free-throw line with the game hanging in the balance also provided a long-awaited redemption for Smith.
"I was a rookie and we were playing New Jersey and I missed a free throw at home and we lost," said Smith, who broke in with New Orleans five years ago. "I've been thinking about it ever since. Now I can put it behind me."
Billups (groin) has missed eight of the Nuggets' last nine games, while Anthony (knee bruise) missed a third straight and Andersen (ankle) missed his second in a row. ... Maggette scored at least 20 points for the 10th time in 11 games. ... The Warriors' Ronny Turiaf limped off the court with 7:19 remaining in the third quarter after coming down awkwardly on his right ankle while going for a rebound. He returned in the fourth quarter.