OAKLAND -- A win would have changed the tenor of the season and fostered some real motivation for the stretch drive.
But despite holding Houston to 36.5 percent shooting, Golden State couldn't muster enough offense to seal the deal. The Warriors lost 94-88, largely because they scored just 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Golden State has yet to figure out a reliable place to go for timely, high-percentage offense, and it cost them dearly on Friday.
When the Warriors needed buckets, they couldn't get them. Mind you, this is against a Rockets defense that came in ranked 29th in points allowed (103.8) and 22nd in field goal percentage defense (46.2)
The Warriors failed to break 90 and shot just 37.9 percent.
"We can get better," point guard Stephen Curry said of the Warriors' late-game offense. "Running our sets, going to the right sets. It's a learning experience for us. We held a team that is notorious for scoring to (94) points. We've just got to get better executing down the stretch."
The Warriors missed a chance to exact revenge on a brazen Rockets team that now has beaten them three times. More important, Golden State sits just a game above Houston for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.
The Warriors (35-28) look to get well against Monta Ellis and the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. Having lost the season series to Houston, Golden State would get the lower seed in the event of a tie with the Rockets.
With just over six minutes left, Bay Area native Jeremy Lin drove to the rim and found himself on his knees on the baseline. But he somehow found Francisco Garcia in the opposite corner, and Garcia drained the 3-pointer, putting the Warriors down 82-76.
But Curry answered with a 3-pointer of his own. Guard Klay Thompson cut the deficit to 84-82 with a 3-pointer. Then, with 3:50 left, rookie forward Harrison Barnes tied the game at 86 with a driving layup.
After that, the Warriors' offense practically disappeared. Three free throws in two possessions by Rockets star James Harden put the Warriors down 89-86 inside of three minutes.
After three scoreless possessions, Curry slipped a neat pass to a cutting David Lee for a dunk, pulling the Warriors within 89-88.
Backup guard Jarrett Jack had a chance to give the Warriors the lead but missed a wide-open 3-pointer from the corner. Then, after another free throw from Harden, the Warriors had the ball out of a timeout. Coach Mark Jackson moved Curry to off guard, but the ball ended up in the hands of Barnes, who was 2-for-9 when he caught it. He missed an ill-advised jumper.
"In that situation," Jackson said, "I want him to feel like he can make a play. The ball found him, and he took a shot. Preferably, what I want him to do is attack. He had Carlos Delfino on him. ... What I want him to do is put his head down and make a play towards the rim against Delfino."
A pair of free throws by Lin put the Warriors down four. After another timeout, the Warriors ran a play for a Curry 3-pointer (instead of going for the quick two-point basket). He missed it.
Golden State didn't foul, as expected, to extend the game. But Houston turned it over to bail the Warriors out. But Lee officially ended Golden State's chances when his outlet pass was intercepted.
The Warriors closed the game with four points in the final 3:49, missing six of their final eight shots -- five of the six misses were jumpers.
"We just fouled too much," Curry said. "That was the difference in the game. Especially in the fourth quarter. That killed our pace because they were going to the free throw line every possession."
He fouled Rockets rookie forward Thomas Robinson, and the two banged knees. Lee limped off the court and went to the locker room and didn't return in the first half. But Lee started the second half with his right knee wrapped.
"It's not feeling too good right now," Lee said after the game. "I took a hard knee right on the bone. Initially when I came back in the locker room, I couldn't put any weight on it. Whenever I straightened it out, it hurt. I've been waiting eight years to get in the playoff race. 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."
Milwaukee (30-29) at Warriors (35-28), 7:30 p.m., CSNBA