"If we're going to chase our goals and the dreams that we have for our season, we have to win games like tonight," said Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson, who filled in for Kevin McHale for the second game in a row following the death of the coach's mother.
The Rockets, who have won 18 of the past 22 over Golden State, had every excuse to start slowly.
They lost at Portland on Thursday night and landed in the Bay Area early Friday morning. Most players and coaches arrived only about an hour before the scheduled start because the final team bus was stuck in traffic getting over the bridge from San Francisco, where most visiting teams stay.
Houston overcame all those obstacles and more.
Howard finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds while spending most of the night in foul trouble for the Rockets, who led by 13 points late in the third quarter before the Warriors briefly rallied ahead in the fourth. Patrick Beverley scored nine of his 16 points in the final period to help Houston regain control.
"We were playing unselfish. We were making the extra pass. We were freeing up each other, making the game come easy," Parsons said.
David Lee had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Stephen Curry collected 20 points and nine assists for the Warriors, who outrebounded the Rockets 56-32. But Houston outshot Golden State 49.4 to 47.8 percent and made more big plays late.
The Warriors also committed 18 turnovers, while the Rockets had 15.
"We made too many careless, untimely turnovers when it mattered most," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.
The Warriors fell behind early again in what has become a troubling trend at home. Golden State came back from deficits of 27 and 18 points to win its previous two games at Oracle Arena over Toronto and Dallas, respectively.
This time, Houston had too much for the Warriors to withstand.
Golden State used a 14-2 spurt at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters, taking an 85-84 lead on Marreese Speights' layup with 8:09 remaining. The teams traded baskets in a back-and-fourth finish -- with the Warriors outscoring Houston 39-34 in the quarter -- until the Rockets regrouped.
Parsons made a reverse layup before Howard converted a three-point play after getting fouled by Lee, giving Houston a 103-98 lead with 2:15 left. Howard made all seven of his free throws.
"I kind of figured it was our night when D-12 knocked that 3 down from the corner and made seven straight free throws," Sampson said, referring to Howard's 3-pointer in the second quarter. "I'm not sure he's ever done that in practice."
Curry came back with a layup, then Beverley answered with a step-back shot from 21 feet to silence the crowd. Curry missed a contested 3-pointer, and Beverley made a running shot to put the game out of reach.
Houston had handed Golden State its most lopsided loss of the season last week, a 105-83 rout in Texas. The rematch out west turned out to be much closer -- and far more physical.
The Warriors wanted a goaltending call on Howard when he reached up and blocked Draymond Green's layup in the second quarter. As Harden dribbled down court, Green hit him in the neck with his right hand. Harden tumbled to the floor, and Green drew a flagrant foul.
The sequence seemed to awaken the announced sellout crowd of 19,596, which had been booing Howard every time he touched the ball anyway. The Rockets remained in control, though, going ahead 57-44.
Howard was whistled for his fifth foul with 9:55 to play in the fourth, helping the Warriors take the lead. But Houston, which shot 12 for 29 from long range, couldn't be corralled offensively.
"It's not good defense if they score 34 points in the quarter," said Warriors center Andrew Bogut, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Warriors.
Golden State was without backup centers Jermaine O'Neal (right wrist), Festus Ezeli (right knee) and Ognjen Kuzmic (right hand), who are all recovering from surgeries. Andre Iguodala also sat out his 11th straight game with a right hamstring injury.
Rockets big man Omer Asik missed his fifth consecutive game with a bruised right thigh.
Bernard King, who spent two seasons with the Warriors, was honored during a ceremony on the court between the first and second quarters for his recent induction in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. ... Howard's 3-pointer in the second quarter was only the third of his career. He's now 3 for 42 from long range.