Gregg Popovich will continue to be absent from San Antonio Spurs’ sideline he has roamed for 22 years, missing a third consecutive playoff game after the unexpected death of his wife last week.
With the Spurs facing elimination in Game 5 Tuesday night against Golden State, Popovich will again yield his seat to Ettore Messina, who will try to coax another inspired performance from the Spurs, who won Game 4 on Sunday, 103-90.
One of the Spurs who goes back furthest with Popovich, Manu Ginobili, was instrumental in the victory. The 40-year-old Ginobili scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, and after the game he answered a question about the “challenge” of playing while “grieving.”
“It’s a tough challenge,” he told ESPN’s Lisa Salters. “We’ve never been through that type of adversity.
“Our leader is struggling, so we are trying to respond and play as if he was here, and hopefully he keeps pushing us from home.”
Still, we’ve all grown accustomed to the sight of Popovich on the bench. “It was strange looking down the sideline,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr admitted before Game 3, “and not seeing Pop.”
“It was a sad time, as you can understand,” Messina said Thursday (via the Express-News). “I think everybody did a fantastic job in really trying to support each other and face a moment like it should be faced, with the support of friends.”
Messina was a legendary coach in Europe, but Popovich’s absence was acutely felt even though much of the game plan had been formulated before Erin Popovich died Wednesday at age 67.
“You go through a season with anybody for 82 games, you see them every day,” Danny Green said. “You’re used to them being there. Especially with his presence. When that’s not there, it’s a big difference.”
A Golden State victory would send the Spurs to an uncertain summer, one in which Popovich will be confronted with a number of on-the-court issues after a season of turmoil involving Kawhi Leonard’s future.
“You know how important Pop is, not only for us players, but the whole organization and the whole NBA,” Ginobili said Saturday (via the Associated Press). “We probably are in a better situation emotionally and hopefully it fuels us. But it’s hard to tell how a team is going to react.”
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