HOUSTON -- Just when many had left the Warriors for dead, they gave us a reminder of why they once were on the cusp of joining the West's best.
One game after getting blown out at home, an "embarrassing" end to a seven-game homestand, the Warriors blasted the Houston Rockets 108-78 Sunday. It was about as clutch a victory as they've pulled off all season and their first road win over a team with a winning record since Dec. 26 at Utah.
"I believe in my guys, and I know this team is not going to panic," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "We are going to stay true to who we are. ... This is a special group."
The Warriors moved 11/2 games ahead of Houston for the No. 6 playoff seed in the Western Conference standings and changed the tenor of this three-game trip, which continues Monday in New Orleans.
Warriors point guard Stephen Curry finished with 29 points and 11 assists, and backcourt mate Klay Thompson scored 26 points. The two combined to knock down 11 of the Warriors' 13 3-pointers.
This came against the same Rockets team that delivered a smack down the last time the Warriors were in the Toyota Center, tying an NBA record with 23 3-pointers (and upsetting Jackson by trying too hard for the 24th) Feb. 5.
This is the same Rockets team that followed by beating Golden State twice at Oracle Arena, putting them right on the Warriors' heels.
Sunday, the Warriors answered the bell in a way they hadn't done this
They outshot, out-rebounded, outran, out-3-pointed and out-hustled Houston.
"(It) was bad in every which way that you want to look at it," Rockets guard Jeremy Lin, a Bay Area native and former Warrior, said after totaling 21 points and four assists.
The ever-so-timely victory, which followed the Warriors' blowout loss to Chicago on Friday, was fueled by defense.
Center Andrew Bogut had 12 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and was the presence the Warriors have been hoping for in the middle. And Thompson did another solid job containing James Harden.
The Rockets All-Star guard was two assists shy of a triple-double -- 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists -- but he was 6 of 16 shooting and had a tough time getting by Thompson. When he did, Bogut let it be known he was there.
"I thought our bigs were exceptional, and we did a great job on multiple-effort plays," Jackson said. "Klay Thompson was absolutely outstanding."
It wasn't just that the Warriors finally beat the Rockets for the first time this season. It was that they did it so convincingly and on the road. It was that they needed a win badly, pointed to this as a statement game, then went out and got it done. And with the kind of swagger that had them 13 games above .500 at one point.
"It was a huge win," forward David Lee said. "These are the games that count the most. Not only because we lost three times to these guys, and also coming off a bad loss, but because of the standings."
The Warriors couldn't have asked for a better defensive performance than the one they put together in the first half.
Golden State led 54-31 lead at the break. The Rockets -- who managed just 10 first-quarter points, their low for any quarter this season -- were 9 of 46 from the field in the first half (19.6 percent), including 2 of 16 from 3-point range. Houston had nearly as many turnovers (eight) as field goals.
"We were on a mission to just play better defense and do it for 48 minutes," said Curry, who played a game-high 45 minutes. "Each time we played them, we got better, but we couldn't put a full game together, and we knew coming out in the third quarter that Houston was going to make a run."
Houston's offense did come alive in the third quarter. The Rockets, who lead the league in 3-pointers made per game, made five in the third.
Lin got things going with a 3-pointer from the right wing, sparking a 17-5 run by the Rockets that Lin and Harden capped with back-to-back 3-pointers. Golden State's advantage was down to 59-48 with 7:01 left in the third.
The lead was down to 62-57 after a driving layup by Lin at the 4:40 mark, but the Warriors backcourt fended off the Rockets.
Curry followed a Thompson jumper with a 3-pointer, putting Golden State up 67-57. After another stop, Thompson hit another 3-pointer, pushing the Warriors' lead to 13. The Warriors led 75-60 heading into the fourth quarter after holding the Rockets scoreless on five shots over the final 2:55 of the third.
Houston guard Carlos Delfino scored nine straight points to get the Rockets fans thinking about a dramatic comeback. His three-point play with 8:30 left in regulation had the Warriors lead looking vulnerable at 79-69.
But after a Bogut bucket, Thompson connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Warriors' lead to 18 at the 6:39 mark. That all but sealed it.
Perhaps Thompson's biggest shots of the season, they were made possible by three consecutive stops by the Warriors defense.
"I thought we were great," Jackson said of his team's defense. "We were alert, aware, paid attention to details, we contested shots, we got back to the paint, we rebounded. It was just a thing of beauty."
Warriors (38-30) at New Orleans (22-45), 5 p.m. CSNBA
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