With several of his players overcome by emotions just moments before tip-off after celebrating the assistant coach they dearly miss, Steve Kerr stuck to his message: “Try to lose yourself in the game.”
Stephen Curry had 25 points and eight assists, Klay Thompson scored 24, and the Golden State Warriors won Wednesday night in their first game back after the death of assistant coach Dejan Milojević last week, beating the Atlanta Hawks 134-112.
“It was not easy but I thought our guys did a really good job of trying to make that transition and settle into the game,” Kerr said. “It was very emotional. A lot of guys were in tears as the ball was being tipped.”
The Splash Brothers shined playing for their beloved “brate” — the word for brother in Serbian that Milojević so lovingly used for all of the Warriors. Kuminga made all 11 of his shots on the way to 25 points as seven Warriors scored in double figures. He matched Hall of Famer Chris Mullin’s franchise record for most shots made without a miss.
“It’s been a tough week,” Kuminga said. “Obviously we kind of regroup with everything that was going on and went out there and just enjoy and just have fun and do what Deki would want us to do.”
In an emotional pregame ceremony, the two teams stood united on one sideline near their team benches and listened as the Serbian national anthem played in his honor. Each Warrior player then placed an extra jersey with Milojević’s name on the back worn during warmups on one of the coaching chairs, which also featured a special black T-shirt with the word “BRATE” draped over the seat.
Milojević suffered a heart attack last Tuesday night at a team dinner in Salt Lake City and died the next day. Two injured Warriors, Chris Paul and Gary Payton II, wore their jerseys with Milojević on the back all game.
A tribute video played on the big screen and photos all over Chase Center showed a beaming “Deki,” as they so fondly called him. Kerr called for the sellout crowd — the Warriors’ franchise-record 500th consecutive — to celebrate the joy Milojević exuded every day with a standing ovation in lieu of a moment of silence.
Two members of the Hawks were right next to Kerr as the Warriors coach spoke of Milojević’s profound impact on every person he encountered. Atlanta guard Bogdan Bogdanovic is a native of Belgrade who played for Milojević’s former Partizan team. Hawks assistant coach Igor Kokoskov was the Serbian national team coach and hired Milojević onto his staff.
“There’s such a strong Serbian connection in this league,” Kerr said.
Bogdanovic scored 17 points with four 3-pointers, while Dejounte Murray led the way with 23 points in the Hawks’ third straight loss.
Dario Saric is the one who became the support person for Milojević’s family this past week and he imagines he will be thinking of Deki every day for the foreseeable future — the coach played a key role in Saric coming to the Warriors.
“He had such a great impact on me in a short period of time,” Saric said. “He was like my older brother.”
“That’s very special,” Thompson said. “Any time I am on the court with those two I’m very grateful.”
The Warriors went eight days in between games, the first team to go eight or more days without playing in the regular season not including the All-Star break or the stoppage for the pandemic in March 2020 was the 2020-21 Spurs with nine days from Feb. 14-24, 2021, according to Elias.
It also marked the longest stretch without playing during the season in Warriors franchise history.
Hawks: Host the Mavericks on Friday night.
Warriors: Host the Kings on Thursday night to complete a home-home back-to-back.