It's a bizarre time to be Donnie Walsh.
"Weird is the word," Walsh said yesterday. "It's weird."
There's obviously no doubt where Walsh's loyalty lies. After the Pacers' 102-95 victory over the Knicks in Game 1, Walsh sat in the corner of an office off to the side of the Garden's visitors' locker room, content with the way his young team's defensive effort frustrated the Knicks' top scorers.
But as good as the win felt for the Pacers' president of basketball operations, the awkwardness didn't disappear. That's because of the pride he still feels for his role in getting the Knicks here, too.
Walsh left the Pacers five years ago to join the Knicks with the goal of breaking down their roster, clearing much-needed salary-cap space and building the team into a winner.
Walsh said he always envisioned the Knicks reaching the point they're at now, as the second seed in the Eastern Conference and eyeing an NBA title. He just never pictured himself sitting behind the opponent's bench when that time came.
"Basically, the way I think about it is this: I did what I said I would do, and I'm glad it's working out for the Knicks," Walsh said. "Because that was my intention."
Felton had 18 points and shot 8-for-12 in Game 1. "Raymond's an unheralded, very, very good player," Walsh said, "and he'll be there when you need him. That's what I saw in him."
The Knicks have added more key pieces since Walsh left in June 2011, and he's impressed with the final product. "They've got enough right now to win a championship," Walsh said. Clearly, though, he's rooting against such an outcome, given that his Pacers are standing in the Knicks' way.
This is a playoff series that Walsh said he would have preferred never happened, but not because of his personal ties.
Walsh said he wanted to avoid the Knicks because they have the best player in the series in Anthony, along with a roster full of playoff-tested veterans. He also said the more he watches video of the Knicks, the more impressed he is with their defense under coach Mike Woodson.
"I shouldn't be surprised," Walsh said. "Woody spent a lot of time with Bobby Knight and Larry Brown and they're both great defensive coaches. So I see a little bit of both of them in what they're doing."
As for the personal part, Walsh said that's just weirdness, and nothing more.
"I don't know how to say this without sounding ridiculous," he said. "But when you get older, all that ---- leaves you. I don't really care in that sense."