SAN ANTONIO -- The Warriors and Spurs will try to play a basketball game here Thursday night, and they’ll succeed. Game 3 will go on and there will be a winner, but it is natural to expect emotions beyond the court to be in play.
Coach Gregg Popovich will not be available to coax the Spurs back into a series they have no realistic chance to win.
He will instead mourn and prepare to say final goodbyes to Erin Popovich, his wife of 40 years, who died Wednesday morning.
Steve Kerr will try to coach the Warriors, who won each of the first two games by double digits, to the brink of a sweep.
He will, to be blunt, try to end the Spurs’ season and thereby free his mentor from any and all professional obligations to apply his time and thoughts to more substantial matters.
“One of the great lessons I learned from Pop was to always keep that balance in mind,” Kerr said Thursday after shootaround. “Even when times are good, you can’t take yourself too seriously. You take your job seriously, but not yourself. And at times like these, that point is driven home. The game seems inconsequential. And it is, in the grand scheme of things.
[RELATED: Steve Kerr knew Erin Popovich well, shares funny story from when Gregg traded him in 2001]
“But this is what we do. This is our livelihood and this is what brings us joy. Players, coaches, we’re all lucky to be out here. That was always one of Pop’s main themes when I played for him. Relish the great hand that was dealt to you in this world because a lot of people are suffering out there.
“So we have to enjoy our work and our game and come out and play the feel the freedom that basketball provides when you’re out there on the floor and running around. But you never lose perspective on real life.”
Kerr related that his wife, Margot, was close with and remained in contact with Erin Popovich over the years since they met in the late 1990s, when Kerr was winding up his playing career. He also recalled hearing from Gregg Popovich how upset Erin was when Kerr was traded in July 2001.
So, yes, the Kerr family was close to the Popovich family, which includes son Micky and daughter Jill, as well as two young grandchildren.
Yet there is nothing Kerr can do to help his friend, who is about as close to a father figure as he had since his own dad, Malcolm Kerr was killed in 1984.
Kerr will do as he has been trained. He will coach. He is in a less delicate position than that of Spurs assistant Ettore Messina, who has been Popovich’s right-hand man since 2014 and will take over as head coach in Game 3. He will try to thrive in unusual and challenging conditions. His job will be massive.
His most difficult task might be keeping his players passionate and focused in a high-stakes game at sold-out AT&T Center, which is sure to be white-hot with a wide range of emotions.
Popovich is a basketball legend. He is more than that in the San Antonio. He has given this place a higher profile than it ever had before he arrived in 1994. He didn’t put the city on the map, per se, but he surely made it more visible to outsiders than ever before.
“Pop might be the most admired man in the NBA, for many reasons, and there’s an outpouring of support and grief from everybody around the league,” Kerr said. “But it hits home especially for those of us who were part of this Spurs family and who have been so impacted by Pop and Erin over the years. It’s a tough day.”