When Washington Bullets Coach Gene Shue went to the bench for a front-line substitute at the start of the second quarter of Saturday night's 97-91 loss to the Boston Celtics, Darren Daye didn't get the call. Nor did Dudley Bradley, another choice in recent games for the injury-depleted Bullets.
No, where a Cliff Robinson or Tom McMillen or Rick Mahorn normally would step into the breach, on this night, against the defending NBA champions, entered one Guy Williams.
Having seen action in just 10 games this season, Williams had played all of 43 minutes, with a high of nine Jan. 22 against the Golden State Warriors. That night, Williams got the call primarily because of Washington's early foul trouble.
That, however, wasn't the case Saturday. "I told him earlier that he would get his chance," said Shue. "He's done a good job in practice, he has offensive talent, we're short-handed . . . ."
"He (Shue) told me earlier in the day that he was going to go with me," Williams said. "He said he knew that I hadn't played in a long time so he wanted me to relax. There are easier teams to go out and play against, but I felt good out there, surprisingly good."
During his eight-minute stint, Williams found himself matched up against one Larry Joe Bird, the league's most valuable player last season and a candidate to repeat this year. Instead of giving the Washington rookie a chance to dwell on the enormity of his assignment, when the Bullets got the basketball, Shue called for the "Bullet-5" play, one that would isolate Williams against Bird.
"I never thought he would do that," said Williams. He wasn't alone in the thought.
"That really surprised me, that they let him go one on one against me," said Bird. "I had played against him once before and he looked like he had some good offensive talent. Then he came out and made a couple of good offensive moves and scored and I started thinking, 'Oh, no, don't let him get started.' "
Williams got the Bullets' fourth basket of the quarter at the 7:49 mark, scoring on a pretty drive through the lane. When Shue called his number again a short time later, Williams, perhaps giddy with success, used the same move to evade Bird. Only this time, after pulling up for the jumper, he released the bane of all NBA players, an airball.
No rim, no net, nothing. On his next shot, Williams hit the back of the rim on a too-hard shot. As some observers at the game said, perhaps, like Navy gunners, he was getting his target sights into focus and would score a bull's-eye on his next attempt.
A short time later, Williams again ditched Bird with a nifty move and again fell short with an airball. When he was replaced by Daye with 3:47 remaining in the half, his line read one for six from the field, one rebound, two points.
"I never thought I'd be so wide open for those shots," Williams said. "I prefer contact, feeling the defender against me -- that's what I base my game on. You sit on the bench and watch during games and it looks like everybody's going out and trying to block everybody else's shot, but it wasn't like that at all."
Williams didn't play in the second half. After the game, Shue allowed that the rookie had done a good, albeit "nervous" job. Williams had no problem accepting that assessment.
"I was nervous but I'm not sure if it was because of Boston," he said. "You don't really care who you're playing against just as long as you get out there. If you do that you'll have to face teams like that eventually. Maybe it was good to start right out at the top.
"I mean, I felt really good out there, I just lack being on the floor in game situations. I hope he (Shue) stays with me. Confidence is the key to basketball. If he gets behind me, then I know things will start to flow."