Washington (AFP) – San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not return for Sunday’s NBA playoff game against Golden State as he continues to mourn his wife’s death, the team announced Saturday.
Assistant coach Ettore Messina will guide the Spurs against the defending NBA champions, who carry a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series into game four Sunday at San Antonio.
Erin Popovich, 67, died Wednesday. She had been married to the long-time Spurs coach and new US national team coach for 40 years.
The Spurs have had to cope with the personal loss as well as their coach’s absence as they face the challenge of Kevin Durant and the Warriors.
“It’s a tough situation,” Messina said Saturday. “But the first thing is to free our minds and realize that if you watch the last game, we had more points in the paint, we had more free throws. We won the boards.
“Against a fantastic team like they are, we know what we’re playing against. Doing everything a little bit better will be the key. I think the team is ready to play and compete. You can’t get frustrated. You’ve got to get back on the court and try to prove everybody wrong.”
No team in NBA history has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit to advance, something Australian guard Patty Mills knows all too well as he prepares for game four.
“We know the history of where we’re at in this situation,” Mills said. “And mentally we have to approach it like we have all season and take one game at a time.
“The vibe is still there to do what we want. It’s another character test like we have tested all year. We’re grinding out there. Our effort has been great.”
Spurs star LaMarcus Aldridge says the team has to stay aggressive.
“We’ve just got to go get it, leave it all out there, do things better and bring the confidence,” he said.