LOS ANGELES -- With 2:45 left in the second quarter, Stephen Curry scored his first points of the game. With 30 seconds left in the quarter, he earned his first trip to the free throw line. There, the "over-rated" chants built. They weren't loud -- few sounds are in the cavernous Staples Center -- but they were noticeable, and might well mark a change in Curry's career.
"That's funny," Curry said of the chants after his Golden State Warriors lost Game 2 to the Los Angeles Clippers 138-98 on Monday night. "That's funny to me. What a difference a day makes, I guess." Though he found humor in the chant, he had to concede, "Obviously I didn't do much in the first half."
He finished with 24 points and eight assists, but most of that production came long after the game was settled. The Clippers' 40-point thrashing of the Warriors was based on their quelling of Curry in the first half, when he made only one shot. On the ball, he was enveloped by double-teams. Off the ball, he was effectively tracked by Chris Paul's supernatural ability to bend a body around screens. Los Angeles smothered Golden State's superstar and feasted off the turnovers his befuddled teammates ceded.
Monday night's chant aside, Curry has had a high approval rating for reasons that go beyond his ability to shoot off the dribble like no one before him. He doesn't look like other superstars as he's slight and baby-faced. Announcers still sometimes refer to Curry as a "kid," even though he has a wife and child of his own. He's never in trouble off the court, he's achingly polite with the media. Curry just isn't the type to draw mockery from opposing crowds. This is the playoffs, though, and he's viewed through the lens of bigger expectations.
His bad games mostly happened in the obscurity of whatever the Warriors were prior to 2012. Last season, Curry burst onto the national scene by shooting the Nuggets out of the postseason. The Warriors would later fall to a superior San Antonio team, but few could blame the league's newest superstar for that, and few did.
He got his first technical foul of the season with 2:00 left in the third quarter Monday night. "I don't drive to the hole that often, I guess, so I thought I drew enough contact to get a couple calls. But they thought otherwise, so I just wanted to let them know."
Curry's constantly subjecting his mouthguard to some sort of abuse, gnawing and pulling at it throughout games. It's only natural that it became the receptacle of his frustrations.
"That was my prop that time. I needed something. I had good aim with it, though. I saved it," Curry said of hurling the mouthguard in an act he framed as "voicing my opinion." Curry's last technical came in Game 5 against the Nuggets, a physical series that drummed up questions of whether Denver was targeting Curry's oft-injured ankle.
He's selective about voicing his opinion. Earlier in the week, when asked about lobbying for calls in the way Paul does, Curry said, "I would get very tired talking every possession, every play."
Paul's method of constantly haranguing the refs might not endear him to opposing fans, but it's probably more effective than keeping quiet. For Curry to get the Warriors through this series, he'll have to enter the fray in more ways than this, though.
The Clippers are forcing the league's best shooter to either give up the ball or drive. In the third quarter, Curry had success splitting their double-teams and taking it to the hole, tallying 20 points in that stanza. The sight of spindly Steph flinging his body into defenders is unusual, but Doc Rivers' defense leaves few options. After the game, Curry spoke multiple times of how he needed to figure out "how to get downhill," a diagnosis he rarely offers in the regular season.
Golden State would certainly prefer that Curry's primary options be an open 3-pointer or a slick pocket pass to a driving David Lee. The playoffs call for different measures. In pursuit of victory, the ever-popular point guard may have to risk his body and risk his nice-guy reputation.
He might be largely beloved, but conditions will force him to be more like the other guys at the NBA's uppermost strata: loved by many, hated by many, and inclined to seek whistled contact in the desperate pursuit of victory.