Gregg Popovich: I told Tatum to act like he’s playing the Spurs

2021-07-31T21:22:43+00:00 2021-07-31T21:26:45+00:00.

Antonis Stroggylakis

31/Jul/21 21:22

Popovich hasn’t forgotten what Tatum did to his team when they last faced each other.

By Antonis Stroggylakis/

USA coach Gregg Popovich inspired Jayson Tatum into having his best game with the national team so far by urging him to treat the Czech Republic the same way he’s done the San Antonio Spurs.

“I just told him I said, ‘act like you’re playing the Spurs.’ Because every time we play him, he scores like 90, so it seemed to work,” Popovich said in the post-game presser following USA’s blowout win over the Czech team in their closing match of the Olympic Games’ Group Stage.. Tatum was the leading scorer of the game with an international career-high 27 points.

Back in April, Tatum gave Popovich quite the headache when he scored 60 points (a personal career-high and a franchise-tying scoring record) in a Boston Celtics win over the Spurs from 32 points down.

Pop isn’t one to forget and he used Tatum’s exploits against his own team to fuel him towards a dominant performance vs. the Czech side. He went on to commend the player and elaborate on his development since he previously coached him in the 2019 World Cup.

“Obviously, he’s more confident,” Popovich said. “But I think he makes better choices, decision-making-wise, whether it’s time to, you know he’s hit a couple and his next catch, he drives it. While he’s driving it, he can find a teammate. So he drives, he attacks for himself and for a teammate at the same time, and he didn’t do that in the very beginning in the league. He was just a scorer. But now, he’s valuable because he does the other things. He’s starting to rebound better. We’re telling them that it’s important. We’re not that big, and so we do need him on the board.”

USA finished second in Group A with a 2-1 record, registering routs over Iran and the Czechs following the loss to Evan Fournier’s France in the tournament’s opener.

Their quarterfinals matchup will be much stronger than Iran or the Czech Republic. Gregg Popovich and his guys will either face reigning world champion Spain, currently-looking unstoppable Luka Doncic’s Slovenia or Italy.

They will find out their opponent in the Top 8 Sunday (1/8) after the game between Spain and Slovenia that will determine the Group B winner, which will be the team USA avoids.

“One team at a time is all I can handle,” Popovich said. “So, I’ll just wait till whenever, Sunday night I guess. And then I’ll know who we play, and then I can talk about those teams. But they’re all very good teams, obviously. And this Olympics is just going to get better as far as basketball is concerned, because the teams are all pretty passionate, and very talented and a lot of individual players that people will enjoy on TV.”

Photo: Getty Images