Bruce Fraser, maybe the most prolific passer in all of the NBA, really needs to see a trainer.
The Warriors’ 53-year-old assistant coach ust finished throwing his 200th or so pass to Golden State guard Stephen Curry at the end of the Warriors’ practice Friday afternoon, and before he could answer any questions he had to acknowledge his ailment.
“My arm is done. It’s really sore,” he said. “End of the season. …”
It’s the same every day. Fraser steps toward Curry with his left foot. He loads the basketball back toward his right hip before pushing a pass to the right pocket of the most creative shooter in the NBA
“I get biceps tendinitis,” said Fraser, a Long Beach native, who won’t get the arm iced or stretched by the training staff. “I just try to groove them in there.”
Curry’s post-practice and pregame shooting sessions with Fraser have become widely seen and shared since the Warriors began their four years of Western Conference dominance. They’re specifically for moments like this.
Curry has made only two of 13 shots from three-point range during the Western Conference finals, the worst two-game slump of his playoff career. In the time since the Warriors were blown out 127-105 in Game 2, Curry’s play and the potential causes have been the main topic of conversation.
In the midst of the questions and, for the first time in a while, some doubt, Curry has remained steadfast in his routine with “Sensei Q,” the nickname he invented for Fraser on Friday.
That means no extra shots. No crazy drills. The two do the work they’ve been doing for the past four years.
“Steph has the same routine every single day — game day, off days. It reminds me of all the great shooters I’ve ever been around. Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, Mark Price,” said Steve Kerr, the Warriors coach and the NBA’s career leader in three-point shooting percentage. “There is a standard routine that they go through that keeps them going through the ups and downs that they inevitably face.”
It’s not that difficult to figure out why Curry is in a bit of a “down” right now.
A sore ankle and an injury to his left knee late in the regular season cost him the final month and kept him sidelined for the first round of the playoffs as well as the first game of the conference semifinals. In the six games since returning, he has been inconsistent as he has tried to regain his touch.
“I think Steph is healthy. He’s moving fine. It’s more rhythm than anything,” Kerr said. “To come back from six weeks in the regular season, chances are you’re going to have a game where nobody’s focused and the other team is playing their fourth in five nights. Defense isn’t that tough and you make a bunch of threes and you just feel good.
“Playoffs, the analogy I would use would be to baseball. You come back in the playoffs and you’re facing the other team’s best pitching night after night in the World Series or playoff games. You’re not going to get that one freebie where they have to call up the guy from the minors and he’s much more hittable.”
Kerr said the Warriors will use the multiple practices they have before Sunday’s Game 3 at Oracle Arena to work on ways to get Curry better looks from three-point range. And his teammates know the ball will start to go in.
“I knew the last couple days would be about Steph shooting the ball, but that’s the last thing I worry about,” Golden State forward Kevin Durant said. “I’ve got so much confidence in him as far as shooting the ball. I said this way before you guys ever said it — that he’s the best shooter ever.”
While Durant was voicing his confidence in Curry, the Warriors’ star guard stood beyond the three-point arc, catching pass after pass from the sore-armed Fraser.
“I know Steph is confident always,” Durant said. “See him working on his game right now? Preparing for the next game. That’s what elite players do.”
He’ll get a clean look at the rim early in Game 3, and the Oracle Arena crowd will be ready to explode if it rips through the twine. If it doesn’t go in, Curry expects the one after to fall.
That comes from the work.
“You always shoot the next shot with the optimism and confidence that it’s going in,” he said. “So you can work on stuff in between practices and games, get your rhythm. You’re seeing the ball go in, working on your mechanics, but [I’ll] never lose confidence in myself ever. That will never change.”