Nobody messes with Pat Riley's players, not even NBA legends.
Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge weighed in on LeBron James' complaints about the officiating in the Miami Heat's streak-ending loss to the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night, saying LeBron's protests were "almost embarrassing."
Riley responded on Friday, and did not mince words:
UPDATE: Friday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m. ET by Grant Hughes
James clearly appreciates Riley's support. He gave a one-word response to the media before the Heat took on the New Orleans Hornets.
UPDATE: Friday, March 29 at 6:45 p.m. ET by Grant Hughes
Ainge has now responded to Riley's harsh criticisms with a couple of humble concessions.
But Boston's front-office man couldn't quite leave well enough alone. Ainge circled back to his original point, apparently having learned nothing from the mini media cyclone he generated:
---End of update---
While on the Salk & Holley show on WEEI 93.7 in Boston, Ainge said:
I think the referees got the calls right. I don’t think it was a hard foul. I think the one involving LeBron against Boozer, that was flagrant. I think the officials got it right. I think that it’s almost embarrassing that LeBron would complain about officiating.
Backing up a bit, James lamented after Miami's loss that the fouls he felt the Bulls got away with were part of a larger, unfair trend. According to Michael Wallace of ESPN, LeBron cited specific fouls by Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson, saying they were "not basketball plays."
It’s been happening all year, and I’ve been able to keep my cool...but it is getting to me a little bit. Every time I try to defend myself, I’ve got to face the consequences of a flagrant or a technical foul or whatever the case may be. It’s tough. It’s very tough.
Objectively, James has a right to be frustrated.
The Bulls did what many other teams have done when faced with the inability to contain a superstar within the constraints of the rules: They played with serious, often illegal physicality. For decades, when teams have run out of ideas on defense, they've resorted to big hits and excessive contact.
Ask Michael Jordan how he feels about the Detroit Pistons' "Jordan Rules" of the late 1980s. What's happening to James is hardly new.
The fouls Chicago committed were almost uniformly whistled, and James' retaliatory shot on Carlos Boozer drew a somewhat defensible "flagrant" distinction.
Could the officials have cleaned the game up by assessing a flagrant foul or two on some of Chicago's more violent violations? Sure.
But they didn't, and James spoke his mind while seething after his team's first loss in nearly two months. That hardly qualifies as embarrassing.
Naturally, James isn't taking Ainge's comments too seriously:
When you consider the heated history between Boston and Miami over the past few seasons and the sporadic verbal sniping that has been going on between the two clubs all year, it really isn't surprising that Ainge—a prominent representative of the salty Celtics and passionate competitor himself—would take a potshot at James when given the opportunity.
With a sound tongue-lashing from Miami's notoriously ruthless president and a dismissive response from James, Ainge might be wishing he'd just kept his mouth shut, though.