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The Warriors and the Rockets each entered Toyota Center with perfection stamped on their foreheads. And each exited the downtown Houston arena with its imperfections fully exposed.
The Warriors, however, did not pay a price for their flaws. They remain perfect (5-0), and for that they can thank Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut.
Curry's late-game brilliance and Bogut's second-half ownership of the paint pushed the Warriors to a 98-87 win over the Rockets in a battle between two of the NBA's three undefeated teams.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors beat Rockets 98-87, improve to 5-0]
With the Bucks downing the Grizzlies, the Warriors are the lone team without a loss.
Houston (6-1) was in trouble an hour before the game, when it was announced that All-Star center Dwight Howard was sidelined by flu-like symptoms. The Rockets were greatly diminished, though it took a while for the Warriors to take advantage.
That came in the third quarter, when the Warriors used power and finesse to take over. Down eight (56-48) after sleeping through most of the first half, the Warriors snapped awake and went on a 22-4 run to take a 70-60. They never again trailed.
"We hadn't played well the whole game and we were still in striking distance," Curry said of the early deficit.
"I thought, ironically, in the beginning that it hurt us that Dwight wasn't there, psychologically," coach Steve Kerr said. "Houston came out, nothing to lose. And the game plan we talked about goes out the window."
Bogut, in particular, seemed at a loss for his role in the absence of Howard. After preparing for a 6-foot-11 All-Star but getting a 6-8 rookie named Tarik Black, Bogut was active but not dominating. Sometime during intermission, though, that changed. He grabbed eight rebounds in the third quarter alone, and the Rockets started peeling away from the paint.
"He anchored the defense with much better rim protection in the second half than he showed in the first," Kerr said.
The Warriors held the Rockets to 18.5 percent shooting in the third quarter, 27.9 percent for the second half. With Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston leading the way, they shut down the 3-point line and forced Houston into countless bad shots.
For all Bogut did, it was Curry who seized a game that, for a while, neither team seemed capable of taking, or worthy of winning. Curry scored 9 points and had five assists during the third-quarter rally.
And when the Rockets came back to tie the game in the fourth quarter, Curry dug in and delivered 14 points, three assists and two steals.
"Steph just took over," Kerr said.
"He won us the game, put us on his back tonight, especially offensively," Bogut said of Curry. "He hit some big buckets to put them away late. He was huge for us."
Curry's line: 34 points (13-of-19 shooting, 6-of-9 from 3-point range), 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals, is beyond good. It's marvelous.
Bogut's work, particularly in the second half. The Warriors needed him to play big, and he responded.
Iguodala and Livingston, along with Klay Thompson, made it a long night for Rockets star James Harden. He missed 16 of his 24 shots, including 10 of his 11 3-point attempts.
Livingston managed to nab four steals in 15 minutes off the bench.
The Warriors committed 26 turnovers. Twenty-six. Four fewer than 30. A season-high. That is, well, ghastly, even in victory.
"It's shocking to me," Kerr said. "We have so much talent and these guys are such good players, if they would just make the easy play the team would be simpler and we would be in great shape.
"But we're coming down and we're making some of the dumbest passes I've ever seen in my life," the coach added, grinning. "And we're still winning."
Thompson endured his worst game of the season. He picked two fouls in the first five minutes, shot 3-of-16 from the field and committed four turnovers. To his credit, he had a team-high six assists.
Good teams can win ugly on the road. The Warriors saw a Houston squad without Howard and anticipated victory. When it didn't come easily, they reset and took it. This is not a game to be framed, but it's worthy of display. It put the Warriors atop the NBA heap.
The last time the Warriors started 5-0, they eventually went into a toxic tailspin that led to Don Nelson's resignation and a franchise in disarray. They finished 26-56. You can safely assume that won't happen this time.