Miami Heat president Pat Riley rarely speaks publicly. During Miami’s 27-game winning streak, not a peep was heard from Riley as his team challenged the 33-game record of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, a team for which Riley played.
But after Boston general manager Danny Ainge had spoken out earlier this week, Riley wasn’t about to stay silent. Ainge had been critical of Heat star LeBron James complaining about hard fouls following Wednesday’s 101-97 loss at Chicago, which ended Miami’s winning streak.
“Danny Ainge needs to ‘STFU’ and manage his own team,” Heat spokesman Tim Donovan said Friday in passing along to Heat beat writers a message from Riley. “He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing, and I know that because I coached against him.”
Riley coached the Lakers from 1981-90, including facing Ainge’s Celtics three times in the Finals. The Lakers lost in 1984 but won in 1985 and 1987.
“I think that it’s almost embarrassing that LeBron would complain about officiating,’’ Ainge had told Boston radio station WEEI, leading to Riley’s comment.
After hearing the statement from Riley, Ainge wasn’t completely done talking.
“Pat Riley’s right,’’ Ainge told reporters. “I should manage my own team. I complained a lot to the officials. And I’m right, LeBron should be embarrassed about how he complains about the calls he gets.”
This shows further how intense the rivalry is between the Heat and the Celtics. Shortly before a March 18 game between the teams, Boston guard Jason Terry said of the Heat’s winning streak (which was 22 at the time), “Not really impressed with it or anything that they do.’’
James threw down a magnificent dunk in that game over Terry. He later gloated about it, saying it was one of his best and he was glad it came against Terry.
It didn’t take long after Riley’s statement before it started being heard around the league.
“I think they’re definitely becoming teams that don’t like each other,’’ Brooklyn Nets guard Jerry Stackhouse, who played for Miami in 2010-11, told FOX Sports Florida before Friday’s game at Denver about the Heat and the Celtics. “And just from the standpoint of Pat Riley is always going to protect his guys. I can only admire that. I hope I would have a coach or a general manager or a president or owner that if you feel one of his players is wrongfully dissed, some junk, he returns the favor a little bit, and that’s rare. So that must have really struck a nerve with him. With that team, they take shots all the time. To actually offer a rebuttal, you know he means business.’’
While Stackhouse spoke in favor of Riley, he did not agree with what James had said. Following the Chicago game, he complained about hard fouls on him by Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson.
James said “a lot of my fouls are not basketball plays” and that “it’s been happening all year.’’ He said it’s now “getting to me a little bit because every time I try to defend myself I got to face the consequences of a flagrant (foul) or technical foul.’’
“We haven’t heard anything about that in the first 27 games of the streak,’’ Stackhouse said. “I don’t think that’s been a topic. So when you lose the streak, you’re disappointed and you’re frustrated and you maybe go out on a tangent that’s maybe not really worth going out on. A guy that delivers as much sheer energy, power and force that he does, I don’t think taking a couple of licks here and there is even worth speaking (about).
“I can understand his disappointment with them getting as close as they did (to the Lakers’ record). Even though they tried to downplay it, I think they obviously wanted to reach that milestone if they could. But I just take it as that. We’re all human in this league and in some of our down moments we make up some different reasons and excuses about why things are the way they are. But I think right now he’s probably just ready to get back to playing to get that taste out of their mouth.’’
The Heat did get back to playing Friday at New Orleans. As far as the Heat and the Celtics getting back to talking, expect that soon to happen.
The teams play again April 12 in Miami. It’s also not out of the question they could meet in the first round of the playoffs.