SALT LAKE CITY — The Warriors knew they would have to deal with some pain.
Emotions ran high when the team returned to Utah to play the Jazz on Monday for the first time since assistant coach Dejan Milojevic’s fatal heart attack at a team dinner in Salt Lake City on last month.
They came without a handful of their own – coach Steve Kerr, assistant coaches Chris DeMarco and Ron Adams as well as general manager Mike Dunleavy, Zaza Pachulia and vice president of player health and performance Rick Celebrini. traveled to Serbia, Milojevic’s native country, on Sunday morning for his memorial. .
Assistant coach Kenny Atkinson replaced Kerr, leading the Warriors to a comfortable 129-107 victory, the team’s fifth straight victory amid a sharp turnaround this season. According to the team, winning helped them cope with the burden of grief.
“Winning helps,” Atkinson said before the game. “When you start to have a little winning streak, you want more. So there is this enthusiasm. We also know that we are behind (in the standings). So there is a little advantage for us. A positive advantage.
Atkinson spoke briefly with Kerr about the game plan. And when it came to emotional trauma, Atkinson and the staff figured keeping the memories and grief at bay was the best way to cope. During the team’s morning film session, Atkinson only gave an update on Kerr and the group’s status in Serbia before getting down to basketball.
“Other than giving an update on how they’re doing, we haven’t said anything about it,” Draymond Green said. “I thought it was wonderful because the moment you start talking about it, you start feeling all those emotions again. Even though these emotions don’t go away, they are still there. I thought it was good to leave them in the back of my mind. We can’t not live with that, he’s our guy. We live with this pain every day, but we learn to move forward.
The players and staff all wore “BRATE” shirts throughout their day in Utah – the team made these shirts with the Serbian word for “brother” to commemorate their beloved coach Deki. During the game, Atkinson let his players take the reins a little. Sometimes he let some veteran players make plays – a throwback to when Kerr let Andre Iguodala make plays during a 2019 game.
“We knew this trip was going to be difficult, because of the emotions of what Deki meant to us in the place where this happened,” Steph Curry said. “But it was really weird without Steve, CD, Rick. It also helped us recognize and celebrate what they were doing and where they were, where they should have been, and our ability to go out and win the game to honor Deki. I think it helped to be a little uncomfortable in the game.”
California Daily Newspapers