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Spurs Warriors Basketball

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, right, is catching some heat from how he answered questions following Game 1 of the Spurs playoff series with Golden State.

I will not defend Gregg Popovich. He'd hate that, even though we've known each other for years.

I just want to set the record straight.

The San Antonio Spurs' iconic coach, a 1966 Merrillville grad and former star at the Air Force Academy, is a complex puzzle whose pieces don't fit snugly. Get used to it.

Pop is easy to dislike if you're not close to the game and prefer an always-bubbly public relations puppet who acts more like a used car salesman.

Yes, he comes across as rude and sarcastic at times.

Yes, he rarely smiles in games, win or lose.

Yes, he's the constant foil of media everywhere.

That's Gregg Popovich, the coach.

With five NBA titles, 21 straight winning seasons, 21 consecutive postseason appearances and a long-lasting culture of excellence, Pop is a can't-miss Hall of Famer — but a different animal off the court.

He's been married to the same woman for 36 years, has loving children and is a true humanitarian with his commitment to charities and community programs throughout San Antonio.

Coaches respect him. Players love him. Most fans enjoy him. The general media, not so much.

Pop's well-documented shortness with the media once again has them bashing him coast to coast.

Bob Knight was far more arrogant and far less tolerant, often walking out or blowing off postgame press conferences for no reason.

Popovich actually has a sense of humor, but makes no time for silly, asinine questions because he takes the game that seriously.

He'll give his usual four-word answers to poor sideline reporters asking a less-than-enlightening question, then rush back to the huddle.

Media claims he's being "a jerk," disrespectful and should grow up for a 69-year-old man making a reported $11 million per season.

He couldn't care less what they think.

"The quarter ends, you just got outscored by 12 points, they had eight offensive rebounds, so the question will be: 'You just got outrebounded by X amount so what are you going to do about it?' I don't know. Am I going to make a trade during the timeout? I don't know," Pop told me once.

"I'm just going to go back to the bench and hope we play better. I don't know how to answer, so sue me for being stupid and not having the answers to the questions."

Fans find that entertaining, but not wife Erin.

"I get home and she says, 'Geez, why are you so mean? You're a jerk, people hate you.' I go, 'I'm sorry honey, I have to do better next time,'" said Pop, smiling.

Several sports outlets slammed the East Chicago native after Saturday's 113-92 opening-round loss to Golden State and his testy behavior in the postgame session.

Reporter 1: What went wrong for you guys tonight?

Popovich: They played better than we did.

Reporter 2: You started Danny Green on Kevin Durant. Did that work very well?

Popovich: Did you watch the game? What do you think?

Reporter 2: It didn’t.

Popovich: It didn’t work very well. So we’ll have Danny grow four of five inches by Monday night, tell him to jump higher and move quicker. And we’ll tell Kevin ‘Don’t be so good.’

Within a few minutes, the questions ended and Pop was out the door.

His Spurs were beaten again on Monday, 116-101, by the deeper, more talented Warriors.

Popovich was more civil because the questions were intelligent. He praised the effort of his outmanned team and bemoaned its 4-of-28 shooting from beyond the arc as a big reason for the loss.

He avoided any reference to the mysterious absence of superstar free agent Kawhi Leonard, who has played in only nine games and has remained in New York getting therapy for quadriceps tendinopathy despite team officials having cleared him.

Leonard chose not to be with the Spurs when the series opened in Oakland and has been criticized by some NBA analysts for not caring, while Golden State star Steph Curry (knee) leads cheers from his bench while still three weeks away from returning.

The Spurs have far less depth and no secondary scorer behind LaMarcus Aldridge. They're doomed.

Gregg Popovich knows it, but continues coaching as if they're a No. 1 seed. Questions, anyone?

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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