HOUSTON -- Usually it's a highly respected opponent that ignites the Cavaliers fire.
On Thursday night in the Toyota Center, the officiating crew also poked the bear.
LeBron James vehemently protested a backcourt turnover with 4:13 remaining in the second quarter, firing the ball at referee Tony Brown, then slapping away the hand of Marat Kogut. The incident turned up the intensity in a game where the Cavs had been trading 2-pointers for the Houston Rockets' 3s.
The energy never waned as the Rockets fought off the Cavs 117-113 in a nationally televised game on TNT.
In a play that typified the night, center Clint Capela scored an and-one with 1:10 remaining. James Harden emerged from a loose-ball scrum and heaved it toward the hoop, with Capela catching it for a slam as he was fouled by Jeff Green.
After a field goal by James, Capela rebounded a weak shot by Harden and put in a layup, giving the Rockets a 117-113 lead with 10.7 seconds left.
Capela blocked James' shot with five second left and Green missed as time expired.
Cavs had won two of their last three, the victories coming against Eastern Conference contenders Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks. But even a better defensive effort could not stop Rockets star Harden, who recorded his second triple-double of the season and 33rd of his career with 35 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists.
The Rockets, on pace for a record-setting number of 3-point attempts this season, fired up 46 attempts from beyond the arc and hit 16, which helped six players score in double figures. Capela had 19 points and 13 rebounds, hitting 7-of-9 shots.
James led the Cavs with 33 points, four rebounds and seven assists and Green scored a season-high 27, his most since January 2016 when he was with the Memphis Grizzlies. Green totaled 20 in the second quarter as the Cavs erased an 18-point deficit.