HOUSTON (Texas) • Despite their nine-game winning streak and having beaten the Golden State Warriors three times already this National Basketball Association season, the Houston Rockets always knew it was going to be tough to complete a season sweep.
Even without All-Star forward Kevin Durant on Wednesday night at Houston's Toyota Centre, two-time defending champions Golden State still finished with a 106-104 victory owing to their superior firepower.
Klay Thompson (30 points) and Stephen Curry (24 points) handled things seamlessly in the backcourt with a combined 8-of-19 mark from three-point range.
DeMarcus Cousins also served as a facilitator before thriving as a battering ram, posting season-highs in points (27) and assists (seven) to help the Warriors bounce back from Sunday's loss to the Phoenix Suns.
"Sometimes games like this can kind of wake you up," Houston guard Austin Rivers said. "We won nine in a row... you kind of let go of the rope a little bit, or we make some mistakes that we've been getting away with the last few weeks.
"I think it was maybe a reminder that when we play against the Warriors, obviously the goal is to match up with them, whether it is second round or conference Finals, whatever it may be."
"It's OK," added James Harden, who led the Rockets with 29 points.
"We fought the entire game, it's just we came up against a good team. It's all right, man. We lost. We know we did. It's (just) one loss."
The Warriors, 4-6 in their previous 10 games but 46-21 overall, snapped the Rockets' season-best winning streak by striking an effective inside-out balance.
Houston (42-26) sliced what was a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to 104-103 on a three-point play by Paul with 10.8 seconds remaining.
THE REAL YARDSTICK
I think it was maybe a reminder that when we play against the Warriors, obviously the goal is to match up with them, whether it is second round or conference Finals, whatever it may be.
AUSTIN RIVERS, Houston guard, on the lessons learnt in the narrow loss.
However, Curry sank two free throws with eight seconds left, and after Harden missed the second of two free throws with 6.4 seconds left, Andre Iguodala tracked down the loose ball in the backcourt for Golden State to seal the victory.
Thompson, Cousins and Curry were the only Warriors to score in double figures. Golden State shot 49.4 per cent from the floor (compared to Houston's 47.4 per cent) and finished 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
Harden paired his 29 points with 10 assists but continued his recent struggles from deep, missing 10 of 12 three-point attempts.
Clint Capela posted a double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) but struggled to defend Cousins on the block. Eric Gordon added 17 points while the Houston bench, which played a significant role in a victory over Charlotte on Monday, produced just 18 points.
Cousins was playing just his 20th game for the Warriors since joining the team last year before spending time on the sidelines owing to an Achilles injury.
His progress was praised by Thompson, whose 30 points included three layups and a three-pointer off feeds from the centre.
"He just played probably the most complete game since he's been here," said the shooting guard.
"I mean, I was getting wide-open looks from his passing ability. He adds a whole new dimension to our team."