Messina replaces Gregg Popovich, whose wife passed away Wednesday.
Gregg Popovich will not coach the San Antonio Spurs for their Game 3 showdown with the Golden State Warriors following the death of his wife. Assistant Ettore Messina will serve as head coach in his stead.
Erin Popovich, the future Hall of Famer’s wife of more than 40 years, died Wednesday after for an extended period of time. It’s unclear how many games Popovich will miss while he tends to his family.
His absence will give Messina the opportunity to spark a comeback in San Antonio. The Spurs lost the first two games of their opening-round series against the Warriors, but return to Texas for Thursday’s Game 3. While Messina has never been a full-time head coach in the NBA, his vast international resume and four years of experience under Popovich should leave him well prepared for playoff action.
The Italian has coached throughout the top levels of the EuroLeague, helming clubs like Virtus Bologna, Real Madrid, and CKSA Moscow in nearly 30 years as a head coach. In that span, he’s won four EuroLeague titles and won an impressive 74 percent of his games. He’s also spent six seasons guiding Italy’s national basketball team.
He’s filled in for Popovich in the past. Messina took his first turn at the helm in 2014 for a preseason game against the Phoenix Suns. In 2016, he served as head coach twice more —in a win over the Timberwolves and a loss to the Pacers — when Popovich was called away from the team for a family emergency. He’s expected to be a candidate for the Hornets’ open coaching position this offseason.
The Spurs and Warriors tip off Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. ET.
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