Bullets Coach Gene Shue realized that the best way to beat New Jersey was to contain high-scoring Ray Williams and he designed a defense to do exactly that.
"I watched Ray get 52 points against Detroit Saturday night and, naturally, I knew we had to stop him," Shue said tonight after Williams made only four of 19 shots and the Bullets rallied for a 96-83 victory in the first game of a best-of-three NBA playoff series.
"Don Collins just played great defense," Shue went on. "In some situations we were trapping and we gave a lot of help from the other guard (Frank Johnson), but we were aggressive, that's the main thing."
Collins admitted he was scared before his first playoff game, but said reassuring advice from veteran Jim Chones relaxed him.
"I knew my main job was to try to stop Ray," the second-year guard from Washington State said. "I thought a lot about him today, what he does best, where he likes to shoot. I was thinking more defense today than offense.
"But I was scared. It was my first playoff game and I was real nervous. I talk to Chones a lot, he's been through all this. I asked him if it was all right to be scared and he said, 'Sure, that's what the playoffs are all about.' "
Collins lost a lot of playing time this season because of his defensive shortcomings, but Shue always has felt he had the ability because of his size--6 feet 6--and quickness.
Collins' main responsibility was to keep Williams from getting open for jump shots and force him to the middle, where Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland could cut off his drives.
"I was determined not to go for any of his fakes," Collins said. "I tried to stay up on him and not leave my feet. If I forced him to the middle, I knew I'd get help. I just wanted him to earn every shot he got."
Williams didn't score until the 4:13 mark of the second quarter after missing four times and having trouble getting free. He wound up making only one of nine shots and scoring only two points in the first half.
"We depend so much on Ray that when he's struggling, we're all struggling," Nets Coach Larry Brown said. "I took him out a few times and talked to him. But I looked down the bench and my first guard substitute was (Mike) O'Koren and he wasn't playing that well, either."
The Nets, winners of their last five regular-season games, were hindered by the loss of playmaker Foots Walker, who sprained his right ankle in Saturday night's victory at Detroit. Darwin Cook, who usually backs up Williams, moved to point guard and O'Koren shifted from forward to guard.
In the first half, the three guards made only four of 20 shots, yet the Nets led, 45-41, because Buck Williams had 13 points and Albert King 10.
"No excuses," Brown said. "We've played all year with three guards and one point guard. When Foots went down, that's the price you have to pay."
Ray Williams, the Nets' leading scorer with a 20.4 average after a slow start, shrugged off one of his worst shooting games of the season and vowed to come back strong in Game 2, Friday night at Capital Centre.
"You can't dwell on something like this," he said. "You have to put it behind you. We've bounced back all year and we can do it again.
"Once you start missing, the worst thing you can do is force the issue. When my shot wasn't dropping, I started trying to contribute in other areas (eight assists, five rebounds). You're going to have nights like this, but you can't let the other guys down by worrying about it."