How Steph Curry's 'maple syrup' perfection pancaked the Celtics

How Steph Curry’s ‘maple syrup’ perfection pancaked the Celtics

Bruce Fraser, a Golden State Warriors assistant coach, received a Christmas gift a few years ago, a bottle of 100% pure Canadian maple syrup.

“I had it on my pancakes and it was incredible,” Fraser recounted. “It was pure, right? One hundred percent maple. I told Steph (Curry) about it. I said, ‘It reminds me of your jumper.’

“Sometimes, when his shot’s super pure and you can feel it — it’s not hitting the rim, the rotation is perfect, the spin, the right arc, everything in the universe is going right for Stephen — I’ll just say, ‘Maple syrup,’ and he’ll smile.”

You know the story. Stephen Curry treated the Boston Celtics as if they were a tall stack. In his for-the-ages 43-point performance in Game 4 of the Finals, you couldn’t see the pancakes for the syrup.

Curry’s play throughout the playoffs, defense included, elevated him to a new level of basketball greatness, and nobody was happier for Curry, or prouder, than Fraser.

One of his tasks is working with Curry when he shoots — before practice, after practice, before games. They’ve been a team since 2014, when Steve Kerr was hired as head coach, brought in Fraser as one of his assistants, and assigned him to work with Curry and Klay Thompson. Soon, it was Curry only.

Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry warms up with assistant coach Bruce Fraser before playing Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of NBA Western Conference First Round playoff game at Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif, on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

Fraser, known to everyone as Q because in college he asked a lot of questions, has fed Curry a zillion passes, give or take. They have developed a close relationship and a mutual trust. Having seen those zillion shots, Fraser can spot teensy flaws and suggest minute tweaks to Curry’s mechanics. Fraser also will offer in-game comments and suggestions. Sometimes they just share a laugh.

Fraser, then, is the perfect tour guide, and he agreed to take us through the Finals, giving a Curry-centric inside look, including a peek into the team party after the clincher.

The Warriors, Fraser said, went into the Finals with their eyes wide open.

“We knew from the very first game, we could feel their strength and their skill,” Fraser said. “We could feel how good they were. We knew it was going to be the toughest opponent yet, by far.”

The Celtics had the league’s No. 1-rated defense in the regular season. They are physical, and in the Finals, refs tend to ref looser, allow more contact. The Celtics took advantage.

“They wanted to punish Steph, wear him down, be physical, put hands on him, make the refs make the calls,” Fraser said. “No airspace, never comfortable. He can’t be the one that beats us was probably their strategy. Not only is Marcus Smart good, but Jaylen Brown’s strong and physical and long, and so is (Jayson) Tatum.”

Did Curry ever complain to the refs?

“I wish he would have. I complain, but my voice isn’t his. … I actually complained one game, during a timeout, to (referee) Kane Fitzgerald. On one shot, Tatum hit Steph with his body, pushed him, then hit him on the wrist during the shot.

“I said, ‘Kane, Steph got hit.’ He’s like, ‘How do you know?’ ‘Because he only complains if it’s really bad. I’ve been around him a long time and I know that about him. For his stature in the league, he doesn’t complain.’ And Kane’s like, ‘No, you’re right. That’s a good thing about him.’ I said, ‘Well, you should re-watch those shots, because he got hit.’ He’s like, ‘Point taken.’”

Curry set the NBA career 3-point record in mid-December, then fell into a long shooting slump. He was coming out of it when, with a month left in the regular season, he suffered a foot injury, knocking him out of the last 12 games. He came back for the start of the playoffs, ready to rip, said Fraser.

“This is the most focused I’ve ever seen him on a playoff run. I can just see it. Without being a horse whisperer, I could see it in his ways: his eyes, his dedication to detail in film sessions, his voice in those sessions, and his focus in our training sessions, and in the games. You could see it.

“I saw added detail to what he wanted to do before and after practice. … He was very, very mindful of what he wanted in those workouts, and receptive to me adding things. … I felt a level of focus, I don’t know how to articulate it other than just feeling like his intensity … was going to lead to what he is going to do in the games.”

Game 4 was crucial. If the Celtics won, they would have a 3-1 lead that might crush any hopes of a Dubs comeback. Before the game, someone asked Fraser how Curry looked in warm-ups.

“I just said, ‘He’s focused.’ And they kind of looked at me, and I said, ‘He’s locked in.’ I knew he was going to have a game.”

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