Ever since Craig Sager returned to his rightful place on the sidelines of TNT's national Thursday night broadcasts at the start of this season after being sidelined for most of the last year and a half to undergo treatments for acute leukemia, NBA fans have waited for the renewal of one of the game's greatest rivalries/two-man comedy acts when Sager once again came face to face with longtime foil Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.
Pop himself has evidently been champing at the bit to get back to sparring, as Sager told Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch back in October:
Sager said returning to work was a huge motivator as were all the well wishes from professional colleagues and fans (he received a lot of cards). Last week while at home, the phone rang from a familiar voice. He recounted the dialogue:
“It’s Coach Pop,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “How you doing, pal? I see you are coming back to work?”
“Yeah, I am,” Sager replied.
“Does that mean that this is pity party is over now?” Popovich bellowed. “Does this mean I can go back to not answering your questions and making fun of your clothes?”
Said Sager: “I wouldn’t have it another way.”
Sages and Pop had it precisely that way between the first and second quarters of Thursday's matchup between the Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum.
"I gotta honestly tell you: this is the first time I've enjoyed doing this ridiculous interview we're required to do," Popovich said. "It's because you're here, and you're back with us. Welcome back, baby."
"Thank you very much," Sager said, as Popovich hugged him. "I laid in the hospital for months hoping to do this again."
"Now ask me a couple of inane questions," Pop replied, snapping back into character.
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Sager promptly fell into rhythm, too, asking Popovich why he chose to run something of a line change, pulling Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard at the same time with just under four minutes to go in the first quarter.
"Well, they were playing like crap, so we put in different guys," he said. "You'd have done the same thing."
Eschewing a follow-up — you only get two questions, remember! — Sager asked Popovich if he was happy with the Spurs' shot selection in the first quarter. That, as longtime Pop watchers will attest, is a no-no.
"Happy?" asked Popovich, shooting Sager some near-Harden-level side-eye. "Am I happy? Craig, come on. Get back in the swing of things."
Enjoy the softballs Sager....next time I won't be so kind.— Gregory Popovich (@FakeCoachPop) December 4, 2015
The jovial jousting ended with Popovich saying he loves Sager, putting a pretty perfect bow on this return trip and continuing the backstage lovefest between the two before the game, as captured by play-by-play man Kevin Harlan:
That's the real stuff — the kind of relationship forged over years of chats, on and off camera, that led to Pop repeatedly checking in on Sager's well-being during his treatment and offering well-wishes mid-game during the 2014 playoffs, and that radiates through the screen whenever they share it. It's exceptionally great that we got to feel it again. Here's the next one, and the next 100 after that.
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