Houston Rockets

Warriors hand Rockets first 3-game losing streak of season

OAKLAND, Calif. – The Warriors did not soar. They did not rain in 3s or fly through fast breaks.

They got the Rockets’ offense in their grasp and squeezed for seven tortuous minutes until there was nothing left.

The Rockets had led most of the way, with role players stepping up and the defense keeping the Warriors in check. But with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the Rockets could not score until the Warriors pulled away for a 107-98 win, giving the Rockets their first three-game losing streak of the season and losses in 11 of 12 games against the Warriors.

Initially with turnovers as Clint Capela was engulfed at the rim, then with missed shots, the Rockets went seven scoreless minutes in the fourth quarter, stuck in the mud as the Warriors eventually found enough scoring to pull slowly away.

The Rockets lead had held up through the third quarter, but they barely seemed to be hanging on. The Warriors had ceased to send the Rockets to the line as they had in the first half and Tuesday in Houston. James Harden, who made just 4 of 18 shots, had not been able to put in his 3s or get good looks on drives. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were showing signs of finding their touch from deep.

Yet, the Rockets found just enough 3-point shooting to hold off the Warriors’ charge, taking a two-point lead into the fourth quarter. Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon each had 15 through three quarters with the Rockets 19-4 when Ariza scores at least 15 points and 34-5 when Gordon reaches 15.

Neither scored again.

Ian Clark hit a 3 to put the Warriors in front and Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes each scored. The Warriors led by seven as the Rockets offense seemed to hit a wall.

When Livingston put in a free throw with three minutes left, the Warriors led 100-92, their largest lead of the night, and the Rockets had seemed to have no way to put the ball in the basket.

Finally, Harden broke through with a 3-pointer, but Curry immediately answered. By then, the Warriors did not need to score again. Curry did, picking up a loose ball and banking in a jumper at the shot clock buzzer for a nine-point last minute lead.

The Warriors, however, had pulled away when their defense slammed the door.

Both teams had struggled to find enough of their usual scoring through most of the night.

By halftime, there was just a glimpse of Harden’s usual passing and Klay Thompson’s customary shooting, in a game largely about the role players.

With Harden making just 1 of 8 first-half shots, Gordon and Ariza each had 12 points for the Rockets, with Ariza keying the upgrade of the Rockets defense since their poor starts against the Warriors and Trail Blazers this week. The Rockets bench of Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker provided a boost. The Rockets led by as much as 13 in the second quarter.

The Warriors, however, have a bench, too. So when Warriors coach Steve Kerr called on his 11th name and fourth center of the half, he found a spark.

The Rockets had been aggressively switching and closing out on the perimeter defensively. It helped that Curry and Thompson were just 4 of 18 before Thompson dropped in a pair of jumpers late in the half. But when the Rockets were getting some separation, the Warriors began moving the ball inside and found a finisher in JaVale McGee.

McGee made 6 of 7 shots, tipping in his one miss, to score 12 points in 5½ minutes and provide the spark the Warriors had lacked.

The Rockets led 59-46 with 1:34 left in the half after a pair of Harden free throws, but the Warriors finished with a familiar rush, scoring 10 points in 84 seconds, capped by an Andre Iguodala 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the lead to five.

Still, the Rockets had plenty of reason to be happy with the half, especially with Harden’s shot so off. But there also was a sense that an opportunity to take a much greater cushion into the second half had been rapidly lost and that they could only hold off the Warriors for so long.