Harrison Barnes added 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Andrew Bogut had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Warriors, who committed 18 turnovers. The Rockets had 15 turnovers.
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, Curry and Thompson all picked up their fourth fouls midway through a tightly called third quarter. With Howard on the bench, Houston built an 82-73 lead heading to the fourth.
But they could only sustain the momentum without Howard for so long. He was whistled for his fifth foul with 9:55 to play, helping the Warriors take the lead briefly.
Both teams played short-handed.
The Warriors were 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 coach Kevin McHale missed his second game in a row following the death of his mother. Assistant Kelvin Sampson served as the interim coach again. And Omer Asik sat out his fifth consecutive game with a bruised right thigh.
NOTES: Houston has won 18 of the past 22 against Golden State. ... 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.