HOUSTON - Two nights after rallying from a 20-point deficit to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Houston Rockets attempted the same trick on Sunday evening against the Golden State Warriors.
The Timberwolves didn't employ Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, though.
Buoyed by the sharpshooting of Curry and Thompson, the Warriors fended off the Rockets to claim a critical 108-78 win at Toyota Center.
Curry and Thompson combined for 55 points on the strength of 11-for-20 3-point shooting as Golden State (38-30) maintained its grasp on sixth place in the Western Conference standings. Curry and Thompson were especially clutch in the third quarter, thwarting the Rockets (36-31) several times to stall what was developing into a riveting comeback.
"Klay Thompson was absolutely outstanding, not just offensively, but more importantly defensively," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "He defended one of the best in the business (Rockets guard James Harden) and made him work for everything.
"We made some plays offensively and he stepped into some shots. He's a knockdown shooter. And they were big plays to stop the bleeding."
After the Rockets opened the second half with a 26-8 run in less than eight minutes, Thompson drilled a 17-foot jumper to stretch the Warriors' lead to 64-57. What followed was perhaps the most vital sequence for the Warriors, as Harden bypassed a moderately contested 3-pointer and then followed by making an errant pass to an unsuspecting Omer Asik.
Curry drilled a 3-pointer on the other end, and Thompson followed with his fourth trey of the night to stretch the Warriors' lead to 70-57. Had Harden made that 3-pointer the Rockets would have trailed 64-60. Instead, the Warriors entered the fourth quarter up 75-60 and were never again threatened, avoiding a series season sweep after three earlier losses.
"Guys have got to individually take the challenge of keeping guys in front of you more," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We've got to get better at calling coverages, getting in coverages, and getting tighter. We've got to do a better job of knowing what the guy does that you're guarding."
Golden State had dropped nine of 10 road games, starting with a dismal 140-109 loss in Houston on Feb. 5. Center Andrew Bogut (12 points and 12 rebounds) supported Curry (29 points) and Thompson (26 points).
"There are a lot of things that you could look at for this game," Curry said. "They beat us three times, they've embarrassed us one game killing the 3-point line. They were a half-game back and had the opportunity to jump us in the standings. And the fact that, yeah, we haven't been playing well as a team on the road. All those factors build into this being a huge win for us.
"The morale is pretty good right now, and we've got to keep that going into (Monday) night (at New Orleans)."
In their first win over the Warriors, the Rockets matched an NBA record with 23 3-pointers and scored a season high of 77 first-half points. In the series finale, Houston shot a miserable 19.6 percent in the first half en route to a season-low point total. The Rockets missed their first eight 3s and finished 2-for-16 from behind the arc in the first half. Conversely, the Rockets drilled four 3-pointers by the midpoint of the third quarter.
"They did a good job, but to be honest, I've never seen us shoot like that," Rockets guard Jeremy Lin said. "They were doing a good job, but we were still getting open looks and that is one side of it. Our defensive effort was pretty pathetic all the way around, all 48 minutes."
Harden and Lin paced the Rockets with 21 points apiece. Harden added 10 rebounds, eight assists and three steals while Lin posted four assists.
NOTES: Consider McHale an admirer of the Miami Heat and their winning streak, which reached 22 games on Sunday against the Toronto Raptors. Miami matched the 2007-08 Rockets for the second-longest winning streak in NBA history behind the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, who won 33 consecutive games en route to the NBA title that season. "What they're doing is very, very impressive," McHale said. "Yeah having the best player on the planet helps, too, because LeBron (James) is just phenomenal. But still everyone else has got to bring it. They've got a nice symmetry going. It'll be interesting to see what happens with the streak. It captures your attention." ... The Warriors closed January with a 14-11 record on the road, a significant reason behind their reaching the 30-win plateau faster than in any season since 1975-76. They had dropped nine of their last 10 games away from Oracle Arena in advance of their three-game swing through Houston, New Orleans and San Antonio. "It's part of the way we've been struggling," Jackson said. "We haven't defended at the same level overall. We've played some better basketball teams and we haven't played our best basketball."