WALTHAM, Mass. -- About a half decade before Stephen Curry would become "the best player in our league," as former teammate David Lee described him Thursday, the Davidson junior guard had caught the attention of a young college coach who was on the verge of his own breakout.
It was February 2009 when Brad Stevens brought his 21st-ranked Butler Bulldogs to Davidson, North Carolina, for a matchup with Curry, the nation's leading scorer. Even with a 15-point lead with only 39 seconds to play and Curry dinged up, Stevens still implored his team to play to the buzzer.
"[Curry] was coming off of a sprained ankle, but I thought he was special," Stevens said. "His ability to make shots and his ability to be almost magical in his runs was something that we talked about when I was at Butler. I remember we had a timeout inside of a minute and it was a double-digit game. And I said, 'Listen, if we let our guard down, we’re going to be part of this fairy tale.'
"And I just think that he’s got that in him. He’s special in his ability for the ball to find the net. Always has been. I don’t know if you can ever predict somebody’s going to be, like, the best player in the world or in the discussion for that, but, man, he’s really gotten better. That’s a tribute to him. He’s always been a worker."
Stevens' troops limited Curry to 20 points on 6-of-23 shooting as Butler posted a 75-63 victory that night. Four months later, the Golden State Warriors nabbed Curry with the No. 7 pick in the 2009 draft. Fourteen months later, Stevens led Butler to the first of consecutive national title games.
Their paths cross again Friday night when Curry, the league's reigning MVP, looks to keep Golden State's perfect record intact when the Warriors visit a star-less Celtics squad that is playing like a legitimate contender in an improved Eastern Conference, thanks to Stevens.
As deep and talented as the Warriors are, much of the buzz at Boston's practice Thursday centered on Curry and how the Celtics might contain the sweet-shooting guard.
"He’s emphasized in the scouting report," Celtics swingman Jae Crowder said. "You have to know where he is at all times and throw a few wrinkles at him here and there, but at the same time you just have to play hard."
The Celtics did a decent job limiting Curry's production over the first three meetings with the Warriors after Stevens' arrival in 2013. But last March, as the Warriors were shifting to another gear before their playoff run, the Celtics watched Curry erupt for 37 points on 14-of-22 shooting while helping Golden State erase a 26-point, first-half deficit during a win in Boston.
Even with Curry playing in a whole new stratosphere this season, the Celtics are embracing the challenge of trying to slow him and the Warriors as a whole.
"That’s what gets Curry going -- all those easy shots -- and I want to take him away from those," said Celtics guard Avery Bradley, the team's chief perimeter defender with Marcus Smart recovering from a knee injury. "Like the backdoor, layups, he gets a lot of those throughout the game because people are worried about his shots. I just feel like if I play solid defense, my teammates will be there to help me and I feel like we can defend well as a team."
Bradley takes pride in guarding opposing scorers, and he undoubtedly hasn't forgotten Curry's exploits last season in Boston. But slowing Curry isn't easy and Stevens figures his Butler squad was lucky that Curry was coming off the ankle injury in 2009.
He's healthy now and a much more complete player.
"For Curry to be shooting 46 percent from 3 is a joke for how tough some of his shots are, and just tells you how great of a shooter he is and how good he is with the ball because his [shots] are all challenged," Stevens said. "Everybody goes through the game plan with the idea of trying to make it as tough as possible on both he and Klay [Thompson]. And they still make really tough shots."
Lee spent five seasons with Curry in Golden State and was part of last year's title team. Lee has tried to impart some advice on how to defend Curry and the Warriors to his new teammates, but knows the challenge of guarding Curry is no easy task.
"I’m not going to make the legend grow any more than it is," Lee said. "He’s obviously the best player in our league and I didn’t think he could get much better than what he was last year, but he’s proven me wrong on that one.
"He’s done an unbelievable job and, more than anything, the biggest compliment to him is he’s a great teammate and also he makes the other guys on that team so much better. Overall, they are an unbelievable team. I think he’s really a guy that not only takes the big shots and is the leading scorer in the NBA, but he makes all those other guys gain confidence as well with what he does on the floor."
Lee remains confident in a Boston team that ranks fourth in the league in defensive rating and has done a good job of making things tough on opponents this season.
"We have a few changes with what to do with stopping Curry. But if we execute our game plan, I think we’re going to be in the game and have a chance to win," Lee said. "And we’ll just take it from there."