If he had had his choice, Philadelphia point guard Maurice (Mo) Cheeks would have fled to the sanctity of the training room, which is off-limits to non-basketball personnel.

Recently honored by a men's group here as one of the unsung heroes in athletics, Cheeks took one look at the horde of reporters and cameras in his face and began yelling for his more revered teammate, Julius Erving.

"Where's Doc?" Cheeks said, hoping to divert some of the attention away from him. "Jeez . . . don't you want to talk to him?" Erving, the heart and soul of this 76ers team, would get his share of attention following his 24-point, six-rebound effort in his team's 104-97 NBA playoff triumph over the Washington Bullets in the first game of their best-of-five series. But it was the overall play of the 6-foot-1 Cheeks that helped the 76ers win.

"Our half-court game worked pretty good and we were able to get some easy shots," said Cheeks, who had 17 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals. "In the end, our defense was designed to slough off and prevent the ball from going inside. We would give them the long jumpers. It hurt them not having (Jeff) Malone (slightly twisted back), and Gus Williams (five of 13) didn't have one of his better nights."

The 76ers fell behind, 93-92, after Williams sank a free throw with 4:21 left. Less than a minute later, Cheeks sank an 18-footer over Williams and Philadelphia never trailed again.

Over the ensuing three minutes, the 76ers forced three turnovers to take control. Cheeks and Andrew Toney made a good play against Williams, forcing the Bullets guard to commit a double-dribble violation.

Washington trailed, 102-97, and had possession with 15 seconds to play. Cheeks ended any chance of a miraculous comeback when he jumped in front of Williams and stole Dudley Bradley's inbounds pass.

"Our team defense was the big difference down the stretch," 76ers Coach Billy Cunningham said. "We created turnovers when we needed them and, as we did over the last three weeks of the regular season, didn't let up at the end. The game wasn't pretty but Washington controlled the tempo. We didn't capitalize on several good opportunities we had."

Both Erving and rookie Charles Barkley agreed that if the 76ers continued to play the same tough team defense shown tonight, they will be difficult to beat.

"It doesn't matter what the other people do," said Barkley (17 points). "If the 76ers play the way we know we can play, we won't have to worry about them."

Malone is expected to play in Game 2 here Sunday and Williams probably will have a better day shooting. Does this bother Cheeks?

"I know I can't stop Gus all game because he's a streak shooter," Cheeks said. "And Malone is great shooting off those picks. I'll just do the best I can against them and maybe make them work a little on defense, too.