Commentary

Celtics-Heat rivalry just tipping off

Updated: November 1, 2012, 8:54 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

Dwyane WadeChris Trotman/Getty ImagesRajon Rondo's flagrant foul on Dwyane Wade added another spark to the Celtics-Heat rivalry.
WALTHAM, Mass. -- There are 88 excruciating days before the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat meet on a basketball court again. Fortunately, there's more than enough drama to bridge the gap.

Two days after Miami's 120-107 triumph over Boston in the season opener Tuesday, there's still fallout from Kevin Garnett's icy gaze following a love tap from old friend Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade's "punk play" accusations after Rajon Rondo's late-game flagrant foul.

Isn't this fun? We've got ourselves an honest-to-goodness Eastern Conference rivalry. And it's exactly what Celtics coach Doc Rivers wanted.

Over the summer, Rivers did a Q&A session at a charity event at TD Garden and implored his team to approach Miami with the sort of genuine disdain that's typically reserved for a more traditional rival.

"Honestly, I don't care about the Lakers," Rivers said. "I have my eye squarely on Miami. ... I bring up Miami every single day to them. I want them to hate them. I want them to beat them. That's gotta be our focus."

Rivalries cannot be manufactured. They develop organically from teams that get in each other's way. These two squads are vying for the same hardware and present a legitimate obstacle -- maybe the biggest threat -- to each other's goals.

A Celtics-Heat series during the 2010 playoffs had a chippy edge to it (highlighted by Garnett's suspension-drawing elbow to the head of Quentin Richardson), but Miami was a mere speed bump on Boston's trek to the Finals that year.

[+] EnlargeDwyane Wade
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesDwyane Wade and the Heat got the upper hand Tuesday, but this Boston-Miami rivalry won't be settled until season's end.

Then LeBron James arrived from Cleveland. For James, the Celtics had morphed into a chief nemesis as a title roadblock, and a rivalry blossomed between Boston and South Beach over the past two seasons, culminating with an epic seven-game series in the Eastern Conference finals last season.

That alone would have been enough to make things interesting. But then Allen bolted behind enemy lines this summer, changing his phone number and going incommunicado with his former teammates and coach on the way.

Allen extended a bit of an olive branch (actually, let's make it a twig) during Tuesday's game when he embraced Rivers and shook hands with his coaching staff. But Garnett didn't even glance at his former Big Three companion as Allen slapped him on the back late in the first quarter.

Garnett's disappointment with Allen's decision is genuine, and his business-like approach on the court has him unwilling to mend fences at the moment. Both Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who had his own fiery streak on the court, and Rivers love what Garnett did.

"Kevin has his own code, God bless him," Rivers said on Boston sports radio WEEI on Thursday. "I love his mentality. I think it's refreshing sometimes."

Which is probably why Rivers seemed amused that Rondo and Wade had taken to publicly sniping at each other over Tuesday's late-game dustup.

Rivers has come out in staunch support of his player, needling Wade by suggesting the foul hardly deserved the reaction Wade delivered during the game, nor his assertion after that it was a "punk play."

Rondo got in his own jab after practice Thursday when he noted, "[Wade] sold [the foul] a little bit. That's basketball. They were up, he drove to the hole, I didn't want to give up a layup. Simple as that. I didn't yank him down, or dirty plays that you've seen him play in the past."

That's a reference to Wade hooking Rondo as the two crashed to the Garden parquet during the 2011 playoffs, Rondo dislocating his elbow when he landed awkwardly trying to brace the fall.

You can sort of imagine a scene in the Miami Heat locker room. Allen is sitting at his locker stall, scanning NBA headlines on an iPad, then looks over at new teammate Wade with a smile and says something like, "He's your headache now."

Yes, this is what rivalries are all about. Even though the Celtics will play a half-season's worth of games (42) before the next showdown with Miami, the two won't be far from each other's minds along the way.

Rivers wouldn't have it any other way.

Meanwhile, Miami fans are shouting that the Celtics need to move on. Boston fans will do the same if Wade & Co. respond.

But, be honest, this is the stuff that makes sports fun. The fallout from Celtics-Heat is far more entertaining than the Celtics-Bucks matchup looming Friday (no offense to those eagerly awaiting the return of Marquis Daniels).

Which is why it's excruciating to think that there's more than 200 days until these two teams can cross paths in the playoffs.

Fortunately, there ought to be a whole new bunch of storylines by then.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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