SAN ANTONIO -- His skinny frame is dwarfed by the giants of the NBA. His baby face only looks younger because of its perpetual smile. And people who know him swear you'll never meet a nicer guy.

But Warriors point guard Stephen Curry has become a breakout star and led his team into the second round of the playoffs thanks to another quality: ruthlessness.

The Denver Nuggets most recently found that out the hard way as Curry dominated their first-round playoff series, and the playoff-tested San Antonio Spurs are up next starting Monday night. But it's not a new phenomenon for those who have watched Curry sneak up on others for years.

Golden State Warriors’ David Lee (10) on the court against the Denver Nuggets in the first quarter for Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball
Golden State Warriors' David Lee (10) on the court against the Denver Nuggets in the first quarter for Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series on Thursday, May 2, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

"It's funny to see people finally catch on," said his brother Seth, a collegiate star at Duke. "I think it's because he doesn't pass the eye test. Even now people are shocked that someone who looks like him is doing what he's doing. He's dominated pretty much every level he's played."

The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder has often been dismissed as too scrawny or lacking for athleticism. Despite an NBA pedigree (father Dell played 16 seasons) and prolific high school career, tiny Davidson College was the only school to woo him.

When debilitating ankle injuries thwarted his last few seasons in Oakland, many wondered whether his body was too fragile. His penchant for turnovers made others question his ability to become an elite leader of an NBA team. But Curry has learned to thrive amidst the swirl of doubt and has made it his comfort zone.


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"He loves proving people wrong," said Bryant Barr, Curry's former Davidson teammate, who is the godfather of Curry's infant daughter. "He always had this chip on his shoulder. Not in terms of being arrogant, but he knew people looked at him and didn't think much. He likes changing their minds."

Off the court, Curry is every bit the normal guy he appears on the surface, posting cute pictures and videos of his daughter or fashion finds his wife scored for him at Target. Few athletes are as engaging with fans on Twitter or well-liked by their teammates. But his on-court persona is sparking fear and awe, even from NBA legends.

Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) dribbles against the Denver Nuggets in the second quarter for Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball
Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) dribbles against the Denver Nuggets in the second quarter for Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series on Thursday, May 2, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

"He's like a Kevin Durant, but a little bit shorter of course," San Antonio's All-Star point guard Tony Parker said, comparing Curry to Oklahoma City's annual MVP contender. "It's going to be a challenge."

Curry opened many eyes by pouring in 19 points over four minutes in the third quarter of Game 4 against Denver and dominating other key stretches in the series. Was this really the same guy who didn't get a sniff from any major colleges after he starred at Charlotte Christian School, leading the Knights to three state playoffs?

Any kid growing up with hoop dreams in the Southeast aspires to play in the storied Atlantic Coast Conference, and Curry was no different. He even had an in since his father had starred at Virginia Tech. So did his mother, Sonya, as a volleyball player.

"They wanted me to walk on," Curry said, "and they wanted me to redshirt."

Curry wound up at Davidson, a small private school 30 minutes north of Charlotte. The entire country got to see what Virginia Tech and others missed out on as he dominated against college basketball's powerhouse programs in the 2008 NCAA tournament. He scored 40 against Gonzaga, 30 against Georgetown, 33 against Wisconsin and 25 in a close loss to Kansas that left Davidson one step short of the Final Four.

He led the nation in scoring the following season. Still, in the 2009 NBA draft, Curry was the fifth guard selected, falling to the Warriors at No. 7. And before he could get started, Golden State veteran guard Monta Ellis put him on the spot by saying the Warriors couldn't win with he and Curry in the backcourt together.

Once the Warriors were out of the playoff picture, then-coach Don Nelson handed the keys to his rookie and Curry took off. After the All-Star break, Curry averaged 22.2 points, 7.7 assists and 5.5 rebounds in 39 minutes, earning the nickname "Baby-faced Assassin."

He made a run at Rookie of the Year honors and was invited to play for Team USA in the World Championships, winning a gold medal in Argentina the summer of 2010.

It seemed Curry had finally arrived. But then the ankle problems began.

He sprained his left ankle in the first full practice in Madrid with Team USA. Not wanting to pass on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he didn't sit out long enough to let it heal. Months later, in an October preseason game, he sprained his right ankle. That set off a two-year battle with ankle issues that would lead to numerous sprains, two surgeries and 48 games of watching from the bench.

It also led to him being left off Team USA, missing out on a chance to play in the 2012 Summer Games in London.

"Yeah, that hurt," Curry said. "All the talk after World Championships was that we'd be the group that would try out for the actual Olympic team."

So Curry came into this season with some familiar doubts swirling again. When the Warriors signed him to a four-year, $44 million extension on Halloween, the franchise was chided for making another crazy move.

But six months later, he has quieted the critics yet again. After Curry became the NBA's all-time single-season three-point shooter, scored a career-high 54 points under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden and led the Warriors back to the playoffs for the first time in six years, his $11 million per year contract looks like a steal.

"This isn't an accident," said ESPN analyst Bruce Bowen, a former standout defender for the Spurs. "He's worked his tail off to get this good."

Veteran Warriors point guard Jarrett Jack said that's what has impressed him most about Curry -- his work ethic. He's watched Curry work back through ankle injuries and battle through smothering defenses increasingly trying to rough him up. Curry has also developed his body enough to earn an endorsement deal from a popular protein drink company.

"I see how hard he competes, how hard he works," Jack said. "That more than anything shows me he's tougher than what most people give him credit for."

The veteran Spurs will no doubt throw some physical play at Curry, but he will have to battle through it and have a monumental series for the Warriors to have a chance.

For Curry it will simply be another opportunity to change some minds.

"He has an edge, an edge that says whoever is on the other side is going to have to deal with me," coach Mark Jackson said. "That's what the elite ones have. Steph Curry, he's got it."