Rockets defense clamps down on Warriors, Houston earns playoff tiebreaker

Dave Del Grande, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Houston Rockets used a record 23 3-pointers to beat the Golden State Warriors earlier this season.
They made things easier on themselves Friday night. They used 25 free throws.
Getting more points on foul shots than two-point baskets, the Rockets earned a potentially important playoff tie-breaker, harassing the Warriors into 4-for-21 shooting in the fourth quarter en route to a 94-88 road win.
In beating the Warriors for the third consecutive time this season, the Rockets (34-29) not only moved within one game of Golden State (35-28) in the battle for the No. 6 playoff position in the Western Conference, but also clinched the season series, which is the first tie-breaker in the case of a tie at the end of the regular season.
The rivals meet for a fourth and final time next Sunday in Houston.
The visitors earned the victory with an 8-2 game-closing run that was accomplished without a field goal.
"We've definitely taken some positive steps in our defense," assured Rockets star James Harden, whose team limited the Warriors to 37.9 percent shooting. "We held them to only 12 points in the fourth quarter. On the road, in a playoff-type atmosphere, that shows the camaraderie that we have."
Ignited briefly by Andrew Bogut's second career 3-pointer, the Warriors took a 76-73 lead into the fourth quarter, only to go scoreless for almost six minutes as Houston regained an 82-76 advantage.
A driving hoop by the Warriors' Harrison Barnes produced an 86-all tie with 3:50 to go, but then Harden began the visitors' parade to the free-throw line 23 seconds later, hitting one of two for a lead the Rockets never relinquished.
Stephen Curry and David Lee followed by missing shots for the Warriors, after which Harden got fouled again and this time made both, extending the margin to 89-86.
Lee, who suffered a bruised right knee in the first quarter and sat out the final 16-plus minutes of the half, got the Warriors back within one with a dunk off a Curry feed with 2:07 to go. But that was Golden State's final hoop of the game as it missed its final four shots and mixed in a 16th turnover.
Harden (three) and Jeremy Lin (two) capped the scoring with late free throws.
"We kind of walked it in with some free throws down the stretch, which we needed," Rockets coach Kevin McHale observed. "Jeremy made a big play -- pump-faked and got fouled. James got fouled on a couple of drives.
"It wasn't like either team was shooting the lights out."
Certainly neither of the Houston guards had much of a shooting night, with Harden making three 3s but missing all other 14 shots he attempted, while Lin only made 3 of 9. But both did damage at the free-throw line, Harden making 11 of 14 to highlight a 20-point game, and Lin going 8-for-9 to account for a majority of his 15 points.
In all, the Rockets dropped in 25 of 34 from the free-throw line, outscoring the Warriors from the stripe by 12 while getting 14 more attempts.
"Right now we're just trying to be consistent," said Lin, whose team plays at Phoenix on Saturday night before returning to Houston for a seven-game homestand. "That's been my buzzword that I keep trying to talk about in terms of our team, our season and myself."
Chandler Parsons led the Rockets with 26 points, connecting on a career-high-tying six 3s. In fact, Houston had more 3-point field goals (15) than two-pointers (12) in the game, and more points on free throws (25) than on two-point hoops (24).
Curry had 24 points and Klay Thompson 22 for the Warriors, who like Houston was far less effective from inside the 3-point arc (24-for-66) than outside it (9-for-21). Lee limped through the second half to finish a 16-point night.
"Missed shots," Jackson succinctly stated about chief reason for the end of his team's two-game winning streak. "At times we were careless, and at times we were too passive. That was the difference -- we settled."
Lee admitted he made the call to return for the second half, during which he played 18 minutes.
"I've been waiting eight years to get in the playoff race," he explained. "So when the doctors told me I couldn't do any more to hurt it, if I could walk, I could play, so that's what I decided to do."
The veteran admitted he's no sure thing for the Warriors home game Saturday night against the Bucks.
"Not feeling too good right now," he reported.
Notes: The Rockets' 15 3s gives them 48 in the three matchups with the Warriors this season. ... Bogut's 3 was the first for a Warriors 7-footer since Manute Bol's last of 32 as a Warrior on Nov. 15, 1994. ... NBA commissioner David Stern attended the game and addressed the largest contingent of media to attend a Warriors home contest this season -- "Cowbell Kingdom" as he tabbed his packed pregame news conference -- a majority of which had made the 90-mile trek from Sacramento to grill him on the future of the Kings. The lead story on the evening news in the state capital: Stern labeling the Mark Mastrov-led offer to buy the team and keep it in Sacramento: "Not quite there (financially)." The NBA's Board of Governors will vote on the matter in April. ... Mastrov, a San Francisco Bay Area native, also attended the game. ... Interestingly, Stern might have been inadvertently pessimistic about the Warriors' postseason hopes, warning, "The team seems to be headed to the playoffs, but stay tuned." ... Before Stern entered the room, the Warriors' Jackson called him "the greatest commissioner in the history of sports." Added Jackson, "It's going to be a sad day when he departs. We should begin a tour now and acknowledge the job he is doing." ... Earlier in the day, the Warriors signed forward Malcolm Thomas out of the NBA Developmental League to a 10-day contract. Thomas, undrafted out of San Diego State in 2011, had 13 points and 17 rebounds in his one and only D-League appearance Wednesday after beginning the season in Israel.