The Celtics defeated the Pacers on the court Sunday to end their first round series in four games. But, in truth, that and the other games were won away from the floor when the teams were being built.
In fairness, Indiana is still in construction mode, with just six members of its roster currently under contract for next season. The Celts just had better players, and such would have been true even if the Pacers weren't without injured star Victor Oladipo.
The vanquished were and are impressed. While coach Nate McMillan could only tip his clipboard to the team with too much high quality depth for his, longtime Pacer director of operations, now adviser, Donnie Walsh offered similar props for the way the Celtics retooled so quickly from the Pierce-Garnett era.
"It's hard to do what they've done, and they've done it in a myriad of ways. They've done it with trades, draft picks," said Walsh.
Having run clubs since the mid-1980s, he knows how difficult the feat was that Danny Ainge pulled off.
"Yeah, I do," Walsh said. "I do. It's very hard. And you've got to know the risks. You've got to take chances, and I think he's done that. If you're willing to do that, I think you can get rewarded. I think he's done a really good job."
Said Quinn Buckner, a Celtic teammate of Ainge for three seasons more than 30 years ago, "One of the things you've got to be willing to do is trade good players, and Danny will do that. Danny will trade you like a year early before he trades you a year late. And if you're going to have great teams, you've got to be willing to do that, which means you're going to trade away some greatness and you're going to lose a bit more for a year or two. But for the long run, he's willing to do that. Some people can't do that, but he can. If it was up to Danny, he'd have probably traded Kevin (McHale) before Kevin was near the end. He'd have traded Larry, because that's how he is."
Walsh, who tried to acquire Larry Bird for the Pacers in the late-'80s, acknowledged Ainge's willingness to make those kinds of moves, with the trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn for the picks that greatly impacted what the Celts are today the best example.
"He did do that," said Walsh, who for some unfathomable reason has yet to make it into the Hall of Fame. "I've done a little of that myself, but not with a Garnett or someone like that. I mean, I didn't trade Reggie (Miller).
"Trades are important particularly when you're rebuilding, because usually you're trading money out so you get draft choices. You're taking smaller money in, so it leaves room to go into free agency. Danny's done very well with the draft, too. Sometimes you can pick a good basketball player, but he doesn't fit with what you've got -- and you might not know that until he gets there. And sometimes you can pick a guy that just doesn't make it all the way. But he's picked guys who can really play."
But though some of Ainge's picks weren't always well received, he never put himself on the line with his fan base the way Walsh did in 1987 when he took Miller rather than the overwhelming local favorite, Steve Alford from Indiana University. The two leaders have in common the fact neither has ever done his job simply to keep his job.
"Yeah, I see that in him," Walsh said. "I tried not to pay attention to all the noise, like what you're supposed to do and all that. I just did what I felt was the right thing to do.
"The way I looked at it, if you get a chance to get a job like this, you go at it as hard as you can. Make sure you do what you want to do, and if you can do that, then at the end of the say, no matter what happens, you're happy. I wouldn't want to get fired doing what somebody else wanted me to do or what was safe."
Buckner saw years ago that Ainge might be good at this job.
"He's always been smart," Buckner said. "And he's... shrewd would maybe be the best way to put it. He's always been like that. If you were competing against Danny, you always had to keep an eye out because you knew he was looking at all the angles. Danny's going to figure out what the best deal is, but he's going to figure it out before everybody else. He's always had that ability, and I think that's what he's brought to the table here with the Celtics in the front office.
"And it's been interesting watching as many guys that we had from those teams be somewhere involved in basketball. I never thought Kevin would do television, didn't think he would coach. I didn't really see Larry in a front office job, but it makes sense, and, listen, he did a heck of a job. But what we're talking about that Red (Auerbach) got and a lot of people don't is that you win with talented, smart players, and obviously we had smart players, because you've got so many people from those teams still involved."