There are two types of basketball players, Gus Williams has been heard to say -- "the quick" and "the dead."
Through nine NBA seasons, Williams always has been considered among the league's quality quick men. Recently, though, there has been talk that he might not be as spry as he used to be.
Maurice Cheeks of the Philadelphia 76ers doesn't buy that.
"He's still tough, even if he is 31," Cheeks said yesterday as both teams held closed-door practices at Bowie State in preparation for Game 4 of their NBA playoff series tonight at 8 at Capital Centre. "I thought about that last night. I hope I'm still doing the same things he does when I'm 31."
Cheeks, 28, was talking about the Bullets' 118-100 rout of the 76ers Wednesday night in Game 3 of the best-of-five series. Williams ran around Cheeks and the rest of the 76ers for a game-high 28 points. Although some of Williams' 11 baskets were long jumpers, there were also layups created by Williams' familiar open-court maneuvering.
It was a vintage performance and, with the Bullets trailing in games, 2-0, and facing elimination, the timing was exquisite.
But Williams had helped put the Bullets in that 2-0 hole. In Game 1, he had seven turnovers, several in the last five minutes of a very close game. In Game 2, he cut his turnovers to three, but shot only seven of 17 from the field.
Yesterday, though, he had no desire to take on his critics. "I'm just glad we won," he said. "We played a great game to win and I hope we can repeat it on Friday." That, too, was vintage Williams, who maintains the same coolness regardless of what's occurring on the basketball court.
"I'm aware of what's being said by people in the media and the fans," he said, "but that's part of the game. Why should I react to everything that's said? What would it accomplish? Those sorts of things are distractions and, if I'm worrying about them, then I couldn't play ball."
Nine times in his nine years in the league, he has played on playoff teams, a source of great pride for him. He played on the 1979 Seattle SuperSonics NBA champions, and has always been able to elevate the level of his game in the postseason. His scoring average is 1.5 points per game higher, 19.6 to 18.1, and his shooting accuracy more than a percentage point greater than his regular season norms.
At the start of the Philadelphia series, the Bullets' coaching staff wondered how well Williams' penchant for one-on-one play would fit in with the team's game plan. But during the first two games, fatigue seemed to be Williams' main problem. He had averaged 37 minutes a game in the regular season, and Cheeks was pressuring him almost relentlessly.
Williams scoffs at the idea that he was tired. "Basketball is a physical game that takes energy," he said. "You're tired at the beginning of the year. You're tired getting into and out of cabs. Marathon runners race for 26 miles. Do you think they're not tired when the race is over? They are, but the thing about professional athletes is that our recovery rate is so much quicker than weekend athletes'. You catch a breath here and there, and you're ready to go again.
"Of course, if you don't play the game the way it's supposed to be played, then you won't get tired. Anybody can just walk around on the court. All I know is that our team is down, 2-1, and that everyone could have done better, including myself."
He said that if the team had performed in Philadelphia the way it did at Capital Centre Wednesday, "things would probably be different."
Yesterday, Coach Gene Shue closed practice to the media, so he could work on adjustments for tonight's game, in which the Bullets could force a return trip to the Spectrum on Sunday. Philadelphia also closed its workout.
Shue said he is most pleased by his team's aggressiveness in Game 3.
"We like to force the issue all the time," he said, "to make things happen and not sit back passively."
Another key was how his team readjusted to the 76ers' defense against center Jeff Ruland, and how Ruland worked against Philadelphia's center, Moses Malone. Malone totaled only 11 rebounds in the last two games of the series.
"I know what we're doing," Shue told reporters, "but I'm not telling you. Each team has to figure out their own stuff, not that I meant to suggest they were smart or anything."
As of yesterday afternoon, the Bullets had 11,000 tickets left for tonight's game, which Home Team Sports will televise.