The final numbers next to his name in the box score were irrelevant.

The only thing that mattered to the people who had waited so long is that he was out there, in the flesh, doing what he does best on a basketball court.

Bill Walton was back.

Suddenly, the frustration and anger that had acumulated in this town through the weeks and months seemed to disappear in a flood of emotion for the former hometown kid now better known as "Million-Dollar Bill."

"That was fun, a lot of fun," Walton said, grinning. "The best part was that we won, of course. That's always the best part."

The tall redhead's contributions in San Diego's 133-121 victory over Phoenix here Tuesday night was limited to slightly more than 13 minutes of playing time. He scored eight points, managed four rebounds, turned the ball over a few times and blocked a shot or two.

He appeared nervous, badly missing his only two free throws, and rusty, particularly on defense.

But his fragile left foot, the infamous foot that had caused him to miss 138 consecutive regular-season games with Portland and San Diego, seemed to be just fine.

"Did the foot bother you at all out there?" he was asked.

"No," said Walton. "I didn't think about it at all while I was playing and I'm not thinking about it now."

He admitted, however, that the experience had been a strange one for him.

"I was uncomfortable." he said. "It was especially uncomfortable to have a ball in my hands. It's been 23 months since I've had a ball in my hands."

If he was uneasy, his teammates weren't. They were practically ecstatic, grateful for the emotional lift Walton provided a team that had come into the game with six straight losses.

Once, while spinning down court, Walton held up his fingers signaling a play, Lloyd Free's play.

"I didn't believe it," said Free. "The game was close and he called the one-four. I said, 'Hey ... I like the big fella."'

Swen Nater, the center who has become one of the league's finest rebounders in Walton's absence, likes the big fella, too.

"It's very simple," said Nater. "With Bill in there, we're gonna win more games."

And now the possibility exists that both Walton and Nater will play at the same time, an experiment Clipper Coach Gene Shue tried briefly Tuesday night, much to the delight of the 11,428 people who showed up, despite the biggest rainstorm of the year in San Diego.

"It threw them off guard," said Nater, who fed Walton a perfect lob pass and twice muscled in for easy baskets in that span. "I'm not sure it's something we can do all the time, but against certain teams, in certain situations ...."

Shue seemed pleased with the result.

"I always thought it would work," he said. "Everyone was probably wondering, 'What'll the defense do?' And the defense couldn't do anything."

In the San Diego dressing room after the game, Walton was smiling; Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe, his major adviser, was smiling, and Dr. Tony Daly, his orthopedist, was smiling.

"I'll tell you something" said Nater, "Only one man could come back after that kind of layoff.And that's Bill Walton.

"In college, at UCLA, in the offseason, I would play every day, lift weights and work hard.Bill would forget basketball, go off hiking somewhere, never even bothering to touch a ball.

"Then, on the first day of practice, he'd walk right in and kick my butt as always."

There were those who were mystified as to why Walton played Tuesday instead of staying out until the Clippers' first game following the All-Star game break.

"I'm ready now," was Walton's explanation. After 3 1/2 months and 56 games, he and the town of San Diego had waited long enough.