Warriors

Omri Casspi flooded with emotions after best game with Warriors: 'I'm loving it'

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AP

Omri Casspi flooded with emotions after best game with Warriors: 'I'm loving it'

OAKLAND -- Omri Casspi took a deep breath and paused and started talking and, honestly, seemed to be suppressing his emotions to keep them from tumbling out.

The veteran forward was moments removed from his most extended playing time as a member of the Warriors, 20 minutes in a 125-101 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

Casspi, 29, is a native of Israel who has been on six different NBA rosters, Sacramento to the west, Houston and New Orleans to the south, Cleveland to the east and Minnesota to the west. Now that he’s member of the Warriors, well, he seems downright grateful to be here and particularly appreciative to have Steve Kerr has his head coach.

Asked what it means to have a coach who spent his 15-year NBA career as a reserve and can share that kinship, Casspi needed a moment.

“Wow. I can’t even put it into words,” he said. “It’s the first time . . . he really knows how to get to me, coaching into my heart.

“As a player that comes into a team that obviously won championships, you know what you’re getting into, it’s really important for me as an individual that you have that relationship with your coach. And I feel like he really got to my heart. He keeps me going. He’s a very special human being . . . I’m enjoying this very much.”

That much was apparent Wednesday. He had submitted a fine line: 13 points, three rebounds, three blocks, two steals and one assist. He had played a total of 65 minutes over the first 11 games, and he was savoring the opportunity.

“I feel like it’s first time in my career, not to take anything from the different teams I’ve played with in the past,” he said, “but I feel like the way we play, our offense, our defense as well . . . I feel like I can play basketball and not think too much. Just play the game.”

For Casspi, that means moving without the ball and making slick passes on offense, while sneaking in and being a disruptive force on defense. He was plus-9 because he was effective at both ends.

So effective was Casspi that as he stood at the line to shoot free throws in the fourth quarter, as the Warriors were closing out the victory, he received “MVP” chants from the Oracle Arena crowd.

It’s enough to leave his coach beaming.

“On a night like this, it allows guys like Omri and Nick (Young) to step in there and get good minutes,” Kerr said. “It’s good for the team, it’s good for morale, it’s good for individual development.”

There is that kinship thing. Kerr is a big believer in communicating with all of his players, especially those who don’t have established roles and regular playing time. That was him 20 years ago, and he seems to excel at having a feel for backup players.

So Casspi, playing behind a championship team with established stars for the first time, is positively euphoric.

“I’m able to cut and do the stuff that role players should do,” he said. “I’m enjoying it, I’m loving it and I want to keep doing it. And keep going and play hard and do what I need to do.”

Warriors-Spurs series feels small and insignificant with Erin Popovich's passing

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USATSI

Warriors-Spurs series feels small and insignificant with Erin Popovich's passing

SAN ANTONIO -- The news hit Steve Kerr like a sledgehammer to the heart.

Imagine, then, how it must have hit Kerr’s mentor, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

The Warriors were wrapping up light practice at AT&T Center Wednesday evening when it was announced by the Spurs that Erin Popovich, Gregg’s wife of more than 40 years, had passed away after a long illness.

Suddenly, Warriors-Spurs and their first-round playoff series, which resumes Thursday, felt small and insignificant.

Kerr, who has been close to the Popovich family for 20 years and whose eldest son, Nick, works for the Spurs, could not bring himself to talk. Seeing the anguish on his face, I felt guilty for asking. I felt relieved that he declined.

I also felt like I’ve never understood Popovich better.

Nothing shines a light on a survivor like the loss of a loved one and in this regard Popovich is brilliant. His wife had been suffering month after month after month, for years, according to those familiar with the circumstances, yet he soldiered on during what may be, personally and professionally, his most difficult year.

His wife was ailing, as if that’s not enough.

His team has been without its best player, Kawhi Leonard, which almost deprived the Spurs of their annual ticket to the NBA playoffs.

Almost. The Spurs found their way by following the tenets Popovich has preached for 22 years in San Antonio. Work hard, play smart, do your best job and live with the results.

Sounds simple, but it worked.

See, when so many in the NBA orbit are living through basketball, Popovich has been living through reality. Basketball is a priority, but not his obsession. He’s a military man, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, whose experiences have afforded him a personal lens than spans at least 360 degrees.

It’s why Popovich never dwells too long on a game, certainly not now, at age 69, a grandfather whose thoughts could not have been too far from his wife of more than 40 years.

It’s why he consistently speaks up for those whose pleas go unheard.

It’s why he says, convincingly, that he doesn’t care if his opinions about our current president rub some folks the wrong way -- even if those folks are Spurs fans.

Popovich is living in the moment because that’s all he has, all any of us has.

The news of the day brought me back to the words Popovich said in closing his pregame news conference prior to Game 1 of this series Saturday in Oakland:

“Enjoy the day. It’s beautiful out there.”

Erin Popovich, wife of Spurs coach Gregg, passes away

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AP

Erin Popovich, wife of Spurs coach Gregg, passes away

The Spurs family suffered an unimaginable tragedy on Wednesday when Gregg Popovich's wife, Erin, passed away.

The news was made public by the team shortly after 5pm PT.

"We mourn the loss of Erin. She was a strong, wonderful, kind, intelligent woman who provided love, support and humor to all of us," Spurs general manager RC Buford said in a statement.

Gregg and Erin Popovich were married for four decades.

The heartbreaking news was announced as the Warriors players and coaches were meeting with the media in San Antonio.

Steve Kerr, who is close with the Popovichs, was too stunned to comment on Erin's passing.

Reporters in the arena broke the news to Kevin Durant, who was understandably stunned by the news.

"What? Seriously? Man, prayers and condolences to his family. Damn. I don't even know what to say," Durant said.

Steph Curry and Shaun Livingston took to Twitter Wednesday evening to pay their respects to Gregg Popovich.