Like James Harden's methodical isolation dribble, the Warriors 129-112 loss to the Houston Rockets was the result of a deficit that developed slowly.
Following the team's most impressive win of the season against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday, the Warriors (2-6) entered Wednesday's game against the Rockets (5-3) sensing some stability.
Still without normal starters Stephen Curry (hand), D'Angelo Russell (ankle), Klay Thompson (ACL), Draymond Green (finger) and Kevon Looney (neuropathy), the Warriors used the same starting lineup for the third straight game. It was the bench, however, that kept the Warriors in the game early.
Reserve guard Alec Burks scored a season-high 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting, including nine in the first quarter to help take an early six-point lead.
With the game still in striking distance in the second quarter, rookie forward Eric Paschall attacked a closeout, drove baseline and finished with a two-handed dunk. He then looked to the bench for a raise-the-roof celebration, one that his teammates joined in on. For the Warriors, it would be the last such celebration of the game.
Shortly after, James Harden got hot. With the Rockets leading 44-42 with 5 1/2 minutes remaining in the second quarter, Harden scored or assisted on the final 23 points before halftime, burying the Warriors in an 11-point hole at the break. That deficit expanded to 23 within the first few minutes of the third quarter, punctuating Houston's 39-16 run that broke the game open.
With three minutes left in the third quarter, guard Damion Lee made a 3-pointer to cut the Rockets' lead to 10 but, by the end of the period, the Rockets reclaimed a 19-point lead. The Warriors tried to hang, but the Rockets had too much fire power.
Lee finished with 13 points and center Omari Spellman logged 13 points and seven rebounds to anchor a bench unit that out-scored Houston's 58-17. Houston's experienced starting lineup, however, outscored Golden State's, 112-54.
Once a playoff-bound rivalry, Warriors vs. Rockets had a decidedly different feel. None of the active Warriors Wednesday played in last season's semifinal round in the playoffs. The Rockets swapped guards, Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, but their 3-point shooting ethos remains in tact, having made 46.7% on 45 attempts from the beyond the arc.
If there was a takeaway from the night, it was an obvious one: for the rivalry to be resuscitated, the Warriors need to get healthy.
Next, the Warriors play the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Friday.