The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat Are Officially Rivals
Why? Because Boston fans hate whoever their opponent may be, and during the five-year Big Three era, Celtics fans saw a whole lot of LeBron. The Celtics faced a LeBron-led team in the playoffs four out of the last five years.
The only year they didn’t? 2009, when Kevin Garnett missed the postseason due to injury.
In 2008, the Celtics-LeBron rivalry began to blossom. LeBron was the darling of the NBA, having led the Cavs to the NBA Finals at the age of 22 just months earlier. The 2006-2007 Celtics fared a bit poorer than the Cavs, posting the second-worst record in the league and winning half as many games as Cleveland.
But just a few weeks after the San Antonio Spurs swept Cleveland in the finals, Danny Ainge helped turn the most storied franchise in NBA history into a contender again by trading for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
As fate would have it, the newly formed Big Three had to dethrone the King en route to the NBA Finals. But LeBron’s Cavaliers, the No. 4 seed of the Eastern Conference, gave the top-seeded Celtics all they could handle, pushing them to seven games.
And Game 7 was an instant classic. LeBron and Paul Pierce dueled the entire game, scoring 45 and 41 points, respectively. While LeBron won the scoring battle with Pierce, the Celtics won the game and marched on to win their 17th championship in franchise history.
The Celtics and Cavs renewed their new rivalry two years later, squaring off in the second round of the playoffs again. The roles were reversed this time around; the Cavs were the top seed in the East, boasting the best regular-season record in the NBA, while the Celtics limped into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. The Big Three had begun to age, but they proved they had a lot of wins left in them, discarding the Cavs and league MVP James in six games.
When LeBron announced that he would be taking his talents to South Beach later that summer, he went from the most beloved NBA player to the most hated in an instant. But Boston fans, thanks to two closely fought playoff series, never wavered in their dislike for the man. They hated the way he whined for whistles, they complained about his cockiness and they certainly took offense to his self-proclaimed nickname, the King.
Mostly though, going into the 2010 series with Cleveland, Boston fans hated that everyone wrote the Celtics off. The Cavs had the best record in the NBA and LeBron was the league MVP, but the Celtics owned rings. While their victory shocked America, it didn’t shock Beantown.
To them, LeBron was just a fraud, and their Celtics were true champions.
So when LeBron joined the Heat, David Stern scheduled the new Big Three to face the old Big Three on opening day. Stern knew he needed to manufacture a rivalry for the Heat, and Boston was the obvious choice.
The only problem? It was just that: manufactured.
The Celtics' emerging rivalry with the Cavs didn’t automatically transfer to the Heat just because of LeBron. Sure, Celtics fans booed the Heat louder than everyone, save Cleveland, but the teams lacked the familiarity necessary for it to be deemed a rivalry. In a true rivalry, the two teams know each other so well that both teams know exactly what the other will try to do; the team that executes better wins.
That wasn’t the case in 2011.
Even after the Heat handled the Celtics easily in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, it still wasn’t a rivalry. For one, the Celtics were in disarray after Ainge dealt Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder. The team never recovered after. Yes, the Heat won, but neither team knew their own identity, let alone the other’s. Dwyane Wade and LeBron were still figuring out how to play together, and the Celtics needed more time to gel without Perkins.
But after the 2012 Easter Conference finals, it became official: The Celtics and Heat are rivals.
It’s impossible to not become familiar after a seven-game series. But more important than familiarity, these two teams developed a sort of enmity. Two of the lasting memories from the series will be LeBron taunting KG and Rondo saying that the Heat were complaining to the referees in transition during a halftime interview.
A palpable animosity exists between these squads. It’s undeniable.
Now add the fact that Ray Allen decided to ditch the C's for the Heat. Whether you believe Allen’s a traitor to the Celtics or not, this adds more fuel to this rivalry. It’s personal now. The schedule hasn’t been released, but it’s a guaranteed fact that the Celtics and Heat will square off on Christmas Day. The only question is whose floor they’ll play on.
Ray might have left, but the Celtics aren’t packing it in; they’re reloading. Jeff Green, who missed all of the 2011-2012 season, is coming back after successful heart surgery. Avery Bradley, who missed the entire Heat series with a shoulder injury, will return to the squad early in the season. They signed Jason Terry, who will fill Ray Allen’s void. He’s certainly not the shooter Allen is, but he’s a little bit younger and can create his own shot.
And they aren’t done yet. The C's might acquire Courtney Lee, or even O.J. Mayo via a sign-and-trade. Even the draft was kind to the Celtics, with Jared Sullinger sliding into their lap.
The Celtics are gearing up, but the window is certainly closing. If they want to get one more title with Pierce and Garnett, they will have to go through Miami. And for those of you keeping score at home, over the past five years, the head-to-head score is Celtics 2, LeBron-led teams 2; the Eastern Conference champions score is Celtics 2, Heat 2; and the NBA champions score is Celtics 1, Heat 1.
The next chapter in this rivalry will undoubtedly be a great one.
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