Darren's day started brilliantly. For about 28 minutes and from about every spot on the court, the Bullet who can do a bit of everything was adding another line to his already cluttered job title: operating on a surgeon.

Told to make the Philadelphia Doctor, Julius Erving, feel and act -- at 35 -- like the basketball senior citizen he is, Darren Daye did exactly that.

Three times down the court early in Game 2 of a playoff series this hoop mecca is yawning through, Daye scored six points and drew Erving's second foul.

First time, Daye lost Erving in near-the-basket traffic and swished an open base line jumper; next time, one on one, he planted Erving near the free throw line and scored on a drive; time after that, Daye hit both free throws after Erving hacked him.

The Bullets planned it that way, for Erving to earn his considerable keep at each end of the Spectrum, although even Coach Gene Shue could not imagine Daye's halftime numbers: 15 points, six assists, three rebounds.

When the Bullets were crisp and cunning, Daye generally was a major reason. There he was finishing a Washington fast break through full-court pressure, or drawing two Sixers toward him and feeding open Jeff Malone.

When the Bullets were fading in the second half, Daye was stuck on the bench.

Shue said he was not sure exactly why such a productive force had been reduced to supporting his chin on his hands for so long, but emphasized the logic must have been sound.

"Fatigue?" Shue repeated. "No. It's so hard to adjust to their lineups. It's not clear (why Daye left with 8 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter and returned with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the fourth).

"I have a feel for what's happening on the court, and the game was slipping away."

Indeed it was. For all that Daye did right the first half, the 76ers still had a four-point lead. Far from tiring Erving, Daye got more than slightly tuckered himself.

That is because the young Bullet played every second of the first 24 minutes; the old Sixer rested half the opening half.

Every Sixer played fewer than 20 minutes the first half; three Bullets (Daye, Jeff Ruland and Gus Williams) played more than 21.

"Both teams played great the first half," Shue said. "They continued to play great."

The 76ers' pleasing performance came in a half-empty gym. For the playoffs, theirs is a late-arriving crowd: like midway through round two.

Once again, the Sixers were quite good against Ruland at important times. They denied him the ball late in Game 1; they forced him to be indecisive occasionally in Game 2.

"They'd send someone (besides bumping mate Moses Malone) halfway toward me when I'd get the ball," Ruland said. "When he stepped toward me, I tried to pass a couple of times and got called (for steps).

"I'll have to adjust."

The Sixers adjusted whenever they had to. In the second half, the fresh Erving tipped away passes the Bullets earlier had slipped to Daye, and Moses Malone controlled the rebounds.

Shue kept the game as close as possible by calling time whenever possible. Once he signaled time between Erving foul shots.

And although he actually shot worse in the second half than the first, Erving provided the most spectacular baskets.

For frustrating contrast (or between night and Daye if you prefer), we join the game with less than six minutes left:

The action resembles something from a peewee pickup league, with players stumbling over each other and treating the ball as though it were a dinner check.

All of a sudden, Erving rises above the masses and earns two free throws after a midair collision with Daye.

He made both.

Fluid and unerring for 28 wonderful minutes, Daye limped toward the shower. An ice pack adorned his left ankle. It's one of those injuries pro athletes call nicks: two chipped bones.

"Picked it up a couple of months ago," he said.

In the first half, Sixer Charles Barkley was so upset at missing a layup he vented his disappointment at length to a freckle-faced ball boy under the basket support.

In the second half, Barkley had the basket quivering for several seconds after one especially devastating dunk.

So it went.

Reaching for reasons for the near-blowout, Ruland caught cliches ("We gotta be doers, not talkers, the sun always shines somewhere . . . ").

"We played as well as we can play the first half," Shue said.

Which means . . . .

"We're not a great team; the 76ers are."

Philly fans seem to have discovered that quite a while ago.