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HOUSTON - There are games when an athlete carries an entire team upon his shoulders through a transcendent effort. And then there are games when both teams are borne aloft.

Such was the case Monday night at the Toyota Center. We had all been waiting for Game 1 of the Western Conference final series for months, and it was every bit as riveting as we had hoped. There were shoving matches, coaching moves and counter-moves, seven ties and five lead changes in a game the Warriors won 119-106. Mostly though, there was Kevin Durant and James Harden.

Durant is a former NBA most valuable player and the reigning NBA Finals MVP. Harden is, in all likelihood, the current MVP. Both played like it Monday, and it was something to behold.

Durant finished with 37 points on 14-of-27 shooting. Harden may have been even better; he scored 41 points, hit 14 of his 24 shots and dished out seven assists. It hardly mattered how they were covered. Each had opposing bodies in his chest and hands in his face, efforts that generally proved futile.

“It’s no fun when someone’s making those type of shots, because you feel like you’re doing everything in your power to force a bad shot,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said of Harden.

Both of these teams do a lot of switching on defense, and that game of tag played a big role in the performances of Harden and Durant. When the Rockets had the ball, they worked hard to funnel Harden into particular matchups. Young center Kevon Looney played 24 minutes off the bench for the Warriors. When he was in there, he often found himself switched onto the tricky Harden. Looney was game, but Harden victimized him several times.

And when it wasn’t Looney, it was usually Stephen Curry. The Warriors star isn’t a terrible defender, but he’s certainly the weakest link in the so-called Hamptons 5 lineup that is coach Steve Kerr’s best five-man unit. Curry looks fully recovered from his recent knee injury — when he’s shooting the ball. On defense, he doesn’t have the lateral explosiveness to stay with someone like Harden.

Time and again, Harden juked, feinted, stepped back and hit a shot over Looney or Curry, or simply flew past them to the basket.

The Rockets like to switch on the defensive end, too, and they did so on Durant.

“If you don’t switch, they’re gonna bite you with Curry and everybody else,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They got a lot of biting.”

But Durant made a mockery of the ploy. He is a 7-footer who can handle the ball and shoot it like an illustration in a basketball textbook. Everyone on the Houston roster, it seems, wound up on Durant at some point. He picked them off one by one. At times, Luc Mbah a Moute or P.J. Tucker was stuck to Durant like a mirror image. He calmly shot over them and landed another swish.

“I think my favorite moment was the one where he drove baseline in the fourth quarter, and he rose up over two guys, like flying and leaning out of bounds,” teammate Draymond Green said. “It was kind of a stick shot. They played great defense on that play, so for him to still get that shot, it was tough.”

Durant and Harden took turns dominating Game 1. Harden scored the Rockets’ first nine points, helping the home team jump out to a 9-2 lead. Durant scored 11 of the Warriors’ final 17 points of the first quarter, helping the visitors cut their deficit after one period to 30-29. Harden scored 11 of Houston’s last 13 points before halftime; the other two points came on a dunk by Clint Capela, off an assist by Harden.

At times, it was like the two scorers were controlling the sticks in their own personal video game, and the other eight players on the court were just scenery.

This was another brilliant game for Durant, who had 38 points against New Orleans just nine days earlier, in Game 3 of the Warriors-Pelicans series. The Warriors were great before they signed him two years ago, but they were always vulnerable to off nights by their long-range shooters. Durant, master of the mid-range shot, never seems to have a truly terrible night.

“Obviously, Kevin is the ultimately luxury,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Because the play can break down, and you just throw him the ball, and he can get you a bucket as well as anybody on earth.”

Kerr and Durant had at least one moment when they didn’t see eye to eye on Monday. With 2:14 left in the third quarter and the Warriors on a 12-2 run, and right after Durant had (a) stuck a 16-foot jumper and (b) drawn a charge from Houston’s Eric Gordon, Kerr decided to take him out of the game. You could see Durant mouthing the word “whyyyy?” as he got to the bench. The lanky forward paced and fidgeted, and Andre Iguodala quickly picked up his fourth foul, and Kerr sent Durant right back in. He had sat for a stint of 50 seconds.

“Kevin’s never happy when he’s coming out of the game,” Kerr said. “No matter when I take him out. Even in preseason he’s upset if I take him out.”

I’m sure that’s true of Harden as well.

Say what you will about Harden’s style, which relies heavily on dribbling out the clock and drawing fouls. He was spectacular in Game 1, as was Durant. The irony is that these two prolific scorers more or less negated one another.

On a night when Durant and Harden dominated, it was the supporting cast that made the difference. And the Warriors’ bit players were better.

Curry struggled a bit, but Thompson hit six 3-pointers and scored 28 points. Draymond Green scored just five, but had nine rebounds and nine assists while playing aggressive defense. Houston’s answers to Thompson and Green should have been point guard Chris Paul and big man Clint Capela. But Paul was mediocre; he shot less than 50 percent and has just three assists. Capela was solid, but didn’t play at Green’s level.

Other Rockets barely showed up at all. Forward P.J. Tucker, described as their X-factor when the series started, scored one point in 34 minutes. Starting forward Trevor Ariza hit 1 of 5 3-point attempts and scored eight points. Mbah a Moute was 0 for 6 from the field.

Harden’s size, intelligence and repertoire of moves make him virtually impossible to guard. But if the Warriors can shut down his Rockets teammates, the rest of this series should look a lot like Game 1.

After the game, someone asked D’Antoni if it was discouraging to lose on a night when Harden was so prolific.

“No, we’ll just go talk to him,” the coach said. “He’s got to get about 55 next time. That will take care of it.”

People laughed in the interview room, but I don’t know why. D’Antoni was surely serious.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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