The Houston Rockets finally put up a respectable fight, but it still wasn't enough to overcome the tidal wave of buckets that is the Golden State Warriors. With a 123-110 loss, Houston dropped back down to .500 at 27-27 and now sit only in eighth place in the Western Conference.
After the first quarter, things were looking predictably bleak. Houston's defense was nowhere to be found as the Warriors scored 42 points and made 12 consecutive shots before Stephen Curry missed a long three-pointer to close the period. Harden had one of his worst quarters all season, failing to score a single point and committing unforgivable defensive sins like this:
But after the bench tread water early in the second quarter, the starters checked back in, and all of a sudden it looked like spring 2015 again. The entire team stepped up their defensive focus, Harden got going offensively, and the Rockets made a 28-15 run to close out the half.
The game was a proper dogfight in the third quarter as well, with Harden and Trevor Ariza keeping pace with Steph Curry. JB Bickerstaff steadfastly refused to go small, and Dwight Howard had a couple of moments when he established great low position on Draymond Green. When Clint Capela came on in relief, he provided just as much rim protection. With Beverley, Harden, Ariza and Brewer flying around like they were around centers like Dwight and Clint, the Rockets played defense as well as they have all year -- sure, the Warriors still had 93 points through three quarters, but they're the Warriors.
Being the Warriors, Golden State pulled away in the fourth quarter. These aren't the 2014-15 Rockets, and even if they were, no one has been able to sustain the energy and effectiveness required to beat Golden State in Oakland this season. The Warriors had an 11-0 run in the blink of an eye to start the fourth quarter, and though Houston didn't fold, they didn't have the final gear to bring the game all the way back. They also had no answer for Harrison Barnes catching fire on contested shots. As the hackneyed quote goes: Forget it JB, it's Golden State.
Let's take a moment for Trevor Ariza real quick. Harden may have made it all happen on offense, but Ariza may have been the Rockets' best overall player on the night. He finished with 19 points on 7-13 shooting, but was even more impressive defensively with the way he erased Draymond Green from the game. Sure, it didn't wind up mattering (the Dubs have a lot of weapons and not all of them need to be firing), but Day-Day only had 8 points and didn't make a field goal until late in the fourth quarter (when he was playing the five and had Dwight on him).
It almost feels cruel to bring it up, but even though Howard had a good-not-great game on offense and defense, his free throw shooting might have gone a long way towards costing the Rockets the game. His second straight double-double was marred with his 2-10 mark from the line, and he missed at some crucial moments when the Rockets could ill afford empty possessions.
Tonight was a loss that really hurt the Rockets in the standings, but for a while there, it just felt good to see them going toe-to-toe with the league's best. One thing's for sure -- they've certainly had worse losses this season. For example, the game just before this when they couldn't break 80 points against the Portland Trail Blazers, who they will see again on Wednesday night in their last game before the All-Star Break. Boy, it sure would be nice to see them head into the break with a winning record.