That night in New Orleans, a Heat public relations official approached the team’s travel media team with a message from team president Pat Riley that would immediately go down in the annals of history.
“Danny Ainge needs to shut down and manage her own team,” Riley said, through that hand-delivered statement. “He’s the most talkative when he’s playing and I know it because I’ve coached him against him.”
For Riley, of course, the hatred wasn’t just Ainge criticizing the then Heat star LeBron James and his tendency to complain about the operation. Riley’s beef with Ainge, and the entire Celtics organization, is personal.
While he has spent almost three decades as godfather of basketball Miami HeatPursuing one of the league’s most stable and successful franchises, Riley has cut his teeth as a player and coach with Los Angeles Lakersand spent years winning championships with their rivals in Boston.
As the Riley’s Heat have consistently been stationed among the East’s elite for the past two decades, the team that has most often pitted them against them has been the Celtics. As Miami makes its eighth trip to the Eastern Finals in the past 18 years and Boston takes its seventh as the two teams play against each other in Game 1 on Tuesday at the FTX Arena (8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN), that shared history helps inform what may lie ahead.
It all started in the summer of 2007, when the Celtics swapped Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to partner Paul Pierce. Boston won the 2008 NBA title and returned to the NBA Finals two years later. But that’s only part of the story. The ascent of the Celtics stars to the East Peak played a key role in James and Chris Bosh choosing to bring their talents to South Beach to join Dwyane Wade there in the summer of 2010.
Boston took out James and Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round in both 2008 and 2010. Pierce overcame James in Game 7 in 2008, and then left James with one of the two worst playoff series of his career – along with the 2011 NBA Finals – to top-seeded the Cavaliers in 2010. One round before that, Pierce hit a header in Game 3 for all but the Heat that went home in the summer.
Those collective failures helped lead to “The Quyet” and three young stars in their prime decided they had to cooperate.
Then it was time for the Heat to repay – first by beating the Celtics in five games in the second round in 2011, ending Game 5 16-0 to officially beat their opponents. It was the first time James or Wade had beaten Boston in post-season.
Things improved dramatically the following season, when the teams met in the grand finals. After the Heat took a 2-0 lead, Boston tore the net for three consecutive games, pushing Miami to the brink of elimination. After the Heat’s outburst in the NBA finals last year, Miami’s loss in game 5 – highlighted by one fan telling the Heat was defeated “good job, good effort” when they left the floor – there were critics who said it was time for the big Miami trio to part ways.
However, all of that set the stage for what has become A special moment in James’ career: his 45-point, 15-rebound game helped Miami win Boston, allowing the Heat to go behind in the series and, a few weeks later, go on to claim the title – a first in James’ career .
“In an environment like this, you want to have a big game,” James said that night.
The Eastern Finals 10 years ago proved to be the final blow of greatness for the Pierce-Garnett-Allen trio. But the final blow came a few weeks later, when Allen shocked the basketball world and opted to join – out of all the teams – Heat in free agency, a move that set the stage for a decade of hatred among former comrades.
And while Allen continued to fight one of the greatest shots in NBA history The following year to help Miami get a second straight title, Boston laid the groundwork for its current roster – by splitting it up.
In a seismic trade, the Celtics sent Pierce, Garnett, and Jason Terry to brooklyn network for a variety of draft options – two of which eventually became Jayson Tatum and Jaylen BrownThe one-of-a-kind puncher now leads the Celtics to four wins in the Finals a decade later.
Throughout the years, the two teams were mostly absent from each other; Miami reached the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals; Boston made it to the Eastern Finals in 2017 and 2018.
But then there was the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World Resort two seasons ago, when the two teams squared off against each other again. Bam Adebayo won game 1 against Boston with a timer of a Tatum block at the rim in the final seconds of extra time, setting the stage for Miami’s final victory in six games in a series where Miami imposed its will on Boston.
“They’re just more aggressive,” Celtics defender Smart Marcus said after Boston saw its season end with Heat. “They’re getting whatever they want. … Unfortunately, we weren’t against it. We weren’t responding the way we should.
“That’s part of it. We played a really good team. I have to take my hat off to those guys. I have to go back to the drawing board and see what needs to be fixed and be back ready next year.”
It took two years, but “next year” is here. Again, we saw one group react to what the other did. After Miami beat Boston in that Eastern final, the Celtics this season have become a team that prides itself on aggressive, athletic play.
Celtics first-year coach Ime Udoka repeatedly used the word “physical” to describe his team’s play. Boston takes size on a large scale and uses it to take down opponents, as it did with both the Brooklyn Nets in the first round and Milwaukee Bucks in the second.
Ainge has since left, and many of the other ties to those clashes from 10 years ago have disappeared from Boston, but in Miami those memories are still fresh. The Heat organization is full of people around for every memorable battle before it. That group is, of course, led by Riley, but also includes coach Erik Spoelstra, the veteran striker Udonis Haslem and score more points.
“You have two organizations and teams that are really committed to doing things at a high level on both ends of the floor,” says Spoelstra. “You guys have teams that have built a lot of habits in the months of the regular season. It’s not going to be anything beyond that. It’s going to be a really good competition.”
It looks like the perfect timing for another playoff clash between the Celtics and the Heat.