In an era of 6-foot-8 guards, slam dunks and 25-foot three-point shots, Nate (Tiny) Archibald demonstrated today that everything starts with the man who sets the tempo.

Archibald, at 6-1 the smallest man on the court, scored only nine points, but had nine assists and three steals in today's NBA All-Star Game. His ability to penetrate on offense made the difference as the East defeated the West, 123-120, before 20,239 at the Coliseum.

Archibald, one of three Boston Celtics in the game, was voted the most valuable player. The leading scorers, Dennis Johnson of Phoenix and Paul Westphal of Seattle, had 19 points apiece. Julius Erving was high scorer for the East with 18. There were no Bullets in the game.

Philadelphia's Billy Cunningham won as East coach for the second straight year and said that Archibald's direction of the offense was the key to the game.

"In the second half we just went to a one-four offense," he said. "We had the quickness, so we tried to open the floor and let Tiny and Eddie Johnson create."

Many teams with quick, small guards have gone to the one-four offense, including the Washington Bullets with Kevin Porter. In that type of offense, the point guard handles the ball out front and the other four players spread the floor and react to the guard's penetration.

"I try not to deviate from my game," said Archibald, the only player in NBA history to lead the league in both scoring and assists (1972 with Kansas City).

"I'm a playmaker and a penetrator for the Celtics and that's what I did today. I believe in making the game simple -- just penetrate and get the ball to the open man."

The West, with the league's top five scorers (Adrian Dantley, Moses Malone, George Gervin, Otis Birdsong and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) were favored, but it had no one to keep up with Archibald or Johnson.

The East took control for good midway through the third period. The West had a big guard line of 6-6 Walter Davis and 6-7 Gervin, but Cunningham went with the 6-2 Johnson, from Atlanta, and Archibald.

The East led, 78-77, when Archibald penetrated, then fed Johnson for a layup. After a miss by the West, Johnson sneaked away for a break-away basket for a five-point lead.

Abdul-Jabbar made two free throws to cut the lead back to 82-79, but Archibald drew the defense to him and fed Bobby Jones for a short jumper. After a turnover by the West, he fed Marques Johnson on a fast break.

Johnson was fouled, but made two free throws for a seven-point East lead. It grew to nine points by the end of the period and it looked like the game was over when the East opened the final quarter with a 10-3 spurt to lead, 107-91.

Westphal, Davis and Abdul-Jabbar led the West back, though, as the East started getting careless and began missing open shots.Westphal scored five straight midway through the period. Abdul-Jabbar made a couple of sky hooks and Davis broke free for six points, but the West could never get closer than three.

The East was on top, 119-116, and the West had the ball, but Abdul-Jabbar tried to bounce a pass through the lane to Dantley and it went out of bounds.

Archibald capitalized with a driving layup, but Abdul-Jabbar scored on a turnaround jumper to cut the lead to 121-118 with two minutes left.

The East couldn't score on its next three possessions, but the West couldn't capitalize and Eddie Johnson got the clinching basket with 40 seconds to play after taking a long pass from Archibald.

The West kept scramblilng, though.Gervin made a base-line jumper to cut the lead back to three with 29 seconds left and got the ball back after Robert Parish missed with four seconds left.

The only hope was a three-point shot, and Jack Sikma's attempt bounded off the back of the rim as the game ended.

Archibald called the game and his selection as the MVP a dream come true.

His career was practically over three years ago after he suffered two serious injuries. He broke his foot while with the Nets in the 1976-77 season and played in only 34 games. While with Buffalo the following season, he tore his Achilles' tendon in the exhibition season and sat out the entire year.

When he was traded to Boston in the summer of 1978, he came to camp overweight and out of shape and the Celtics were very close to getting rid of him. The Celtics took a chance and Archibald gradually got himself back in shape.

"The toughest part of coming back was getting my confidence back," Archibald said. "It's there now."

Today, he had an MVP trophy to prove it.