SAN FRANCISCO -- We've seen Steph Curry be a lot of things over the years: Transcendent. Inspirational. Petty. He's shimmied, shuffled, put teams to sleep and pointed to his ring finger.
There's one thing, however, that we rarely get to see from Curry: A mean streak.
What he did to the Milwaukee Bucks in Saturday's nationally televised matchup can only be characterized as malicious ... callous ... even downright evil.
Curry had 17 points with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, and his Golden State Warriors trailed by eight points. When all was said and done, Curry had tallied 36 points, and the Warriors had come away with a 125-116 overtime victory. It was truly the stuff of legend, even for a player whose legend was already well over capacity.
"Steph is fearless. It doesn't matter if there's a slow start or if he hasn't had much going, he can ignite it at any time," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the win. "I thought that comeback down the stretch -- I think we were down eight with about two minutes left. Championship stuff. That's the team that has won four titles."
Curry's cold-blooded 3-pointer with 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter tied the game, and he all but sent the Bucks packing with a 29-foot pull-up with just over two minutes left in overtime.
Wardell— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) March 12, 2023
Curry, who normally celebrates with a childlike enthusiasm, refused to crack a smile after the dagger, instead opting for a mean mug that inspired equal parts terror and respect.
This look from Stephen.— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) March 12, 2023
HE MEANS BUSINESS. pic.twitter.com/nwu6LpnwRw
After the game, Curry said the celebration was calculated, the slow walk to the bench allowing him to take full advantage of the three-minute timeout. He also said he didn't want to yell, in an effort to conserve energy. But, when pressed, he admitted that the context of the game did at least somewhat influence the menacing glare.
"Obviously there's reactions to the game and you feel good about yourself," Curry said. "There was a certain toughness and grit that we showed. That was the facial expression."
Curry had 20 of his 36 points in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, rendering even more laughable the all-too-recent, inaccurate narrative of him not performing in clutch situations. He knew how badly the Warriors need every win in a sardine can of a Western Conference, and Curry made it his mission to win the game.
The onslaught was even more impressive since he did it against two of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA, Jrue Holiday and Jevon Carter. Draymond Green, who knows a little something about defense, remarked about Curry's ability to create and make shots against such physical defenders.
"It was very impressive the way he willed us. He hit shot after shot," Green said. "And it wasn't like many people were creating for him. He was creating for himself and getting to the shots that he wanted."
Curry's will wasn't exclusive to the offensive end. On the Bucks' final possession of regulation, Holiday blew past Warriors defender Donte DiVincenzo and looked to have a clear path to the basket. That's when Curry slid over into perfect position, swatting the shot away with what Green called textbook verticality.
STEPH DENIES JRUE AT THE RIM 🖐— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 12, 2023
We have OT on ABC! pic.twitter.com/fwTXAmNQKO
"I think the biggest play of the game was the end of regulation, Steph coming over," DiVincenzo said. "Jrue gets downhill, and Steph saves me. And he saves the game."
This wouldn't be a Steph Curry story without mentioning gravity. Once he gets going like he did in the final seven minutes of Saturday night's game, his ability to bend the defense frees up his teammates. It just so happens that one of his teammates is arguably the best shooter on Earth not named Stephen Curry. Klay Thompson, who scored just three points in the entire fourth quarter, hit two huge buckets in overtime due partly to the space freed up by Curry's presence.
"Probably get out of his way, set a screen for him, space the floor," Thompson said of his approach when Curry goes on one of his unconscious heaters. "He's gonna attract much more attention. So you'll get open looks if you just stay patient and ready to shoot."
Curry showed his vicious side last year while devastating the Boston Celtics en route to winning his first NBA Finals MVP. The energy and intensity he brought to that series was on display Saturday, and it will likely remain for the duration of the regular season as the Warriors fight for playoff positioning.
The win over the Bucks moved Golden State into the No. 6 seed in the West, but they're still just 2.5 games from falling out of the play-in altogether, with stout opponents like the Nuggets, 76ers, Kings and Suns on the horizon. With the way the Warriors have struggled on the road this season -- their seven wins away from home are the third-least in the entire NBA -- Curry is going to have to bring that postseason-level intensity, and steely glare, until the Warriors head home for the offseason.
Ultimately, even with Curry's firepower and determination, Golden State's success is going to depend on their defensive effort.
"We defend, we give ourselves a chance to win," Green said. "You don't defend, and it's a crapshoot -- you're trying to outscore teams, and that don't work often. I don't care how great of scorers you got."