HOUSTON -- The Rockets' offense is one of the best in the NBA. However, against Golden State on Friday night, it was the defense that was the key.
Houston leaned on its defense in the first quarter while jumping out to a double-digit lead it didn't relinquish.
Terrence Jones added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Rockets, who had lost two straight. Harden shot 13 for 22 from the field and 7 for 9 on free throws two nights after shooting 3 for 17 -- including 0 for 10 on 3-pointers -- against Phoenix.
Howard was 12 for 20 on free throws as the Rockets finished 25 for 39 from the line. Houston was also 45 percent from the field.
"That's the way we play," Harden said. "If we don't get after them on the defensive end, it's going to be tough for us. We were getting huge stops and getting out in transition. We did a good job early in the game of putting pressure on their guards, and we got things going our way."
Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 22 points and five assists, but was just 5 of 14 from the field while making all 11 free-throw attempts. Harrison Barnes had 14 points and seven rebounds, Kent Bazemore added 12 and David Lee 11 points as the Warriors saw their two-game win streak end.
Golden State shot 36 percent from the field, including 2 for 16 on 3s.
"They're a tough team," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "They shoot a lot of 3s. They shoot them at a really high percentage. We were trying to get them off the line and keep pressure on them and keep our bids up so they just couldn't walk into shots. For the most part, we did a very good job of that."
Golden State coach Mark Jackson said it was a bad loss.
"The way we started the ball game, there have been times when our bench has been bad, and we let them know, and tonight, the starters did a poor job of setting the tone," Jackson said. "We got outworked. They played with more force and that set the tone the rest of the way."
The Rockets led 61-37 at halftime and pushed the advantage to 28 on Harden's three-point play less than 2 minutes into the third quarter.
Golden State pulled to 74-50 on Jermaine O'Neal's jumper midway through the third, and the Warriors resorted to `Hack-a-Howard' with 5:40 remaining in the period.
Howard made 2 of 4 from the line, and the Warriors pulled to 76-54 on O'Neal's layup with 5:06 to go in the quarter. Howard connected on the next two free throws, and the Warriors went away from hacking him.
Golden State got no closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
"It's like tonight we didn't hit shots early, and we have a tendency to dwell on that, and we weren't getting stops and we can't turn the ball over on offense," Curry said. "We gave them extra possessions early in the game to get their confidence going."
Houston opened up a 31-12 lead after the first quarter on 60-percent shooting from the field.
The Rockets hit nine of their first 11 field goals as Jones led the way with 11 points in the quarter and Howard had nine.
"We did the best job we could on making sure those guys didn't get 3s off tonight, and that's where it started," Howard said. "Our defense was great from the beginning. We had a lot of deflections. We ran the floor well and put pressure on their guards to make plays to other guys instead of them coming off and scoring."
Golden State opened the second with five straight points to pull within 14 on Curry's 3, but the Rockets responded with a 16-6 spurt over a 5-minute stretch to open up a 55-30 lead on Patrick Beverley's layup with 1:30 to go in the half. Harden had eight points in the run.
The Warriors shot 27 percent from the field and hit 1 of 8 from beyond the arc in the first half after scoring 19 points in the first quarter three nights earlier against Toronto and trailing by 17 at the half.
"I know there is a reason for it that's excusable," Klay Thompson said of the slow starts. "It's very disappointing. As a starter, we have to come out there with unlimited energy."
Houston forward Chandler Parsons returned after missing the last two games with back spasms. Parsons finished with eight points and five assists on 3-of-13 shooting in 34 minutes. ... The Warriors' 12 first quarter points tied a season low for a quarter and was the Warriors' fewest points in a first quarter. ... The 12 first-quarter points was also a season-low for points in a quarter allowed by the Rockets.