This was the time when he was supposed to earn his money. This was the time when the fans in Capital Centre were supposed to be screaming his name, stomping and yelling while he bombed the Washington Bullets back into a playoff game.

Gus Williams was nowhere to be found. And by the end of the evening, the Bullets, for the sixth straight season, were nowhere to be found after one round of the NBA playoffs. They lost, 106-98, and that gave the Philadelphia 76ers the series, three games to one.

For more than nine minutes during the fourth quarter, Williams sat on the Bullets' bench, one hand in his chin, the other clutching a towel, while Frank Johnson and Jeff Malone tried to keep Washington alive for one more game. Williams, who shot six of 20 for three quarters, had been yanked by Coach Gene Shue with 10:34 left in the game.

Was Williams surprised to come out with the season in the balance?

"No, that's part of the game," he said. "I can't play 48 minutes every game."

But to come out in this game?

"I expect for us to play well and I hope we can win. We didn't win tonight. It was just one of those nights."

Players who make $700,000 a season are not supposed to have such nights in the playoffs. Williams and Cliff Robinson were the two players who were supposed to keep yet another Bullets' season from ending this way, this soon.

But last night, Williams had much to do with stopping Washington's third-quarter run and Robinson was two of six for five points with just three rebounds in 26 minutes.

"The whole team lost, all of us," Jeff Ruland said charitably. "We got killed on the boards (46-29). That's what did it to us."

But to be honest, Williams was the primary culprit. Consider: Third quarter, the Bullets have scored two quick baskets to cut the 76ers' 61-47 halftime lead to 61-51. They can cut the lead to eight. Down comes Williams: brick. On the rebound, Robinson picks up his fourth foul.

Moments later, with the deficit 11, Williams tosses another brick. Moses Malone scores at the other end and it is 66-53. Then, after the lead is down to 68-63, Williams throws up an air ball. With the lead back to five and less than two minutes to go in the quarter, he travels. And finally, with the score 72-68 and the Bullets trying to cut the lead to two, Williams misses.

Philadelphia scores the next six points and the Bullets never get that close again.

"Once you have to start relying on jump shots it's over," said Johnson. "We never got anything going in the open court tonight. We never had our rhythm offensively."

Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham had told his guards Thursday in practice to concentrate on dropping back quickly on defense to prevent Williams from getting on the kind of open-court roll that had led to his 28 points in the Bullets' victory Wednesday.

Forced to play halfcourt, forced to deal from outside most of the night, Williams never got going. He took several bad shots during a three-of-13 first half and all three of his field goals during the disastrous third quarter were layups.

"If they were doing anything different, I didn't see it," he said curtly.

Would he second-guess himself? "I don't do that. This game is history, so is the season. There's nothing I can do about it. All I can do now is look forward to next year."

Sitting next to Williams, with his foot in a bucket of ice, Johnson was saying those same words. Suddenly, he stopped. "Boy, do I get tired of saying that," he said. "Always it's next year, next year. Seems like it's been next year around here for 100 years."

As Johnson talked, the man who was supposed to change that lament already was dressed. His season had ended with a three-point field goal with seven seconds to play. But as the shot swished through, the building was emptying, the game had been decided, the Bullets were through . . . again.

Gus Williams was supposed to change all that. Not last night. Not this year.