Nights like these remind me of one of the more iconic quotes from The Dark Knight, uttered by Batman’s archnemesis, The Joker — and masterfully delivered by the late Heath Ledger:
Madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it needs is a little push.
Based on his January, Stephen Curry seemed like he certainly needed any kind of push. Averaging 22.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 7.3 assists doesn’t seem all that bad from a surface level, but Curry’s shooting splits and scoring efficiency are where the true extent of his struggles manifested.
Such numbers — 39/33/89 shooting splits and 58.6% True Shooting — are exceedingly below the lofty standards of someone who has made a career out of successfully marrying volume with efficiency.
With January coming to a close and Curry getting set to leave behind perhaps the worst month of his NBA career, it seemed like he needed some sort of spark to get him going. As we all know, Curry commands a high level of respect from his opponents, and rarely does he himself outwardly lash out at opposing players in a demonstrative manner.
But there have been those few instigators in the past — whether it was the feeling of getting wronged on a call, pesky defense being played by an opponent, or the rare trash talk directed toward his way — who light the spark that sets the Curry nuclear bomb off.
In this instance — against an old nemesis in the Houston Rockets — that spark was provided by the young and brash Kevin Porter Jr.
Steph wasn't fazed by KPJ's chirping pic.twitter.com/UE0fYloz2W— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 1, 2022
Curry often draws comparison to and is often nicknamed as the “Human Torch” because of how rapidly he can heat up in a short period of time. But I would argue that he’s more of “The Incredible Hulk”: quick to anger, and — when he does get angry — is an occurrence that opponents aren’t too keen on experiencing.
Something to remember about what happened above is that while Curry chose not to outwardly respond to Porter’s chirping and mean mugging, it didn’t mean that he wasn’t listening.
The sequence below — happening not long after Porter’s episode on Curry — was an immediate response:
Not only was it an immediate clapback — it was one that happened on both ends of the floor. Curry makes life hard for Porter at the point of attack; coupled with timely help from Juan Toscano-Anderson, Curry forces the turnover and drills the transition three.
Including the three above, Curry — after getting the Porter mean-mug experience — would proceed to be responsible for 28 of the Warriors’ final 48 points, either through scoring himself or assisting his teammates.
Toscano-Anderson — tasked to provide spot back-up minutes at the five with Kevon Looney on the bench — paired up with Curry on a couple of empty side pick-and-rolls, which drew two defenders toward Curry and allowed Toscano-Anderson to score uncontested, especially without help coming from the strong-side and insufficient help from the weak side.
Even while uncharacteristically shooting 39% on mid-range shots this season, Curry continues to have faith in his jumper just inside the arc. Even on a night where he shot 7-of-14 on threes, Curry mixed up his attack with the occasional drive to the rim, pull-up threes from outside, and a couple of mid-range shots that were crucial down the stretch.
Against mismatches or a non-set defense in transition, Curry’s pull-up audacity was in full force. The separation he had difficulty gaining throughout the past month suddenly became second nature to him — as if he recaptured the magic of what made him the greatest shooter of all time.
Later in the fourth quarter, Porter — after drilling a three-pointer over Curry — started another verbal assault directed toward Curry and the Warriors bench:
Curry responded with seven of his 21 fourth-quarter points to close out Porter and the Rockets. First, on a drive that belied his 58% success rate at the rim this season — but was vintage Curry in the manner that he was able to use his off hand to kiss the glass and find the perfect angle to score over the outstretched hands of Christian Wood.
Not long after, Curry’s audacity makes another appearance; he drills a three in front of Porter’s contest, right after winning a jump ball.
Curry seals the deal with a couple of free throws later on — and the rest, as they say, is history.
Finishing with 40 points on 23 shots — 6-of-9 on twos, 7-of-14 on threes — while posting 75.4% True Shooting is a fine way of breaking out of a slump, but whether this is a start of an upward trend for Curry or an anomaly within the worst stretch of his career remains to be seen.
If there is one glimmer of hope and reason for optimism, however, look no further than Curry’s three-point shooting over the past three games:
Last three games, Curry is 16-for-34 from three (47.1 percent)— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) February 1, 2022
Shooting 47.1% on 11.3 three-point attempts over the last three games is closer to the Curry that we’re accustomed to. So if you were to choose between seeing this stretch from him as the start of an upward trend, or as a temporary respite from his slump — it may be safe to bet on the former.
Either way, this game served as a grim reminder to anyone who tries to get under Curry’s skin or tries to challenge him in a demonstrative manner: All it takes is one push to send Curry over the edge and into the realm of madness, where he is able to impose his will.
A lesson that Kevin Porter Jr. — a brash but promising player who has a whole career ahead of him — learned the hard way.