It is a test of wills.

The Philadelphia 76ers want to run, the Houston Rockets want to walk.

Nobody wants to run with the 76ers, who won the first game of the National Basketball Association Eastern Conference final playoff series against the Rockets Friday night, 128-117

"We've got to slow the game down," said Houston coach Tom Nissalke, looking to the second game of the series Sunday at the Spectrum (WTOP-TV) at 1:30 p.m.

"We didn't play the way we wanted to play - slow," Nissalke said of the first game.

Nissalke affectionately refers to his team as "water buffaloes." They are big and often cumbersome. If it is a slow "muscle" game, the Rockets can play with the 76ers. If it is a race-horse affair, they haven't much chance.

Nissalke started a front line of 7-foot Kevin Kunnert: 6-10 Moses Malone and 6-8 Rudy Tomjanovich in the first game and it didn't work. They spent most of the game trying to figure out where the 76ers went.

The 76ers ran them to death in what their coach Gene Shue, called one of their best offensive games of the season.

"We have to slow it down and keep it that way," Houston guard John Lucas said. "If we can hold them under 100, we can beat them. We don't want to run with a team that is quicker than we are."

Lucas said the best way to keep the 76ers under control is for Houston to work the ball around on offense and use up most of the 24-second clock before taking the shot.

"Tempo is foremost in this game," Lucas said. "We've got to move it around and make them play defense for 18 or 20 seconds. This way we can stop their fast-break buckets."

After that, said Nissalke, "the big thing is the transition game, getting back on defense."

"The key to our success is how well we rebound," Shue said.

The 76ers won the rebound battle, 45-38, in the first game and were thus able to get their task break started.

The Rockets' strength usually is on the boards. They outrebounded the Bullets in five of the six games of their semifinal series.

The Rockets were down by 19 points in the third period Friday, but made 15 of 19 shots in the fourth quarter and got as close as seven.

"They (the 76ers) shot 60 per cent for the game and we played badly and we still didn't get blown out," said the Rockets' Calvin Murphy. "We took their best shot. We'll come back."