The rivalry returns: the 'celtic' pride and glamor of Pat Riley

The most unexpected Eastern finalists reissue the 2012 series and seek to return to the top of an NBA they dominated in the near past.


Green and glamor. A historical franchise against another with a lot of history. A team built from below against another, which too. Miami Heat and Boston Celtics meet in the most unpredictable East final, one that brings together the third and fifth weakest of the Conference but also, many times, the most exciting. It is the first time in history that this round has been reached in the East without the first or second classified of the regular season since this type of format was implemented with 16 teams, eight per Conference, in 1983-84. It is also unprecedented that none of the four teams that reached this tie last year repeat now, with Raptors, Bucks, Warriors and Blazers out of the game. It has not happened since 1977 and that is precisely what the Celtics and Heat have been in charge of, who are one step away from the dreamed Finals in a way that is as unexpected as it deserves, after eliminating the first and second from the East; Miami, with a walk that has sentenced Giannis and has put the Bucks' project in check. The Celtics, in an epic series resolved in the seventh game against the reigning champions. Neither of them was a favorite in the betting at the beginning of the course and both have slipped into a round without a clear favorite, in which anything can happen and in which there are many names and vivid memories that are etched in the retina of the amateur and representing one of the most impressive rivalries of the 21st century, with a series included that saw the advent of one of the most incredible reigns of all: that of LeBron James.

It was in 2012 when a before and after was marked in the recent history of the best league in the world. At that time, the second lockout that had meant a shortening of the season came to the East finals with half the world wanting to see LeBron James fall. It was less than two years since the forward had decided to head to Florida and say goodbye to the Cavs to become, The Decision through, the most hated player on the planet. He was forced by some Celtics who eliminated him in the 2010 semifinals, after coming back from a 2-1 against and opposing for a Finals to which they ended up arriving (and losing) to the Lakers. Two years before, it had also been the greens who had separated a still-crownless King from the dream of the ring, also in the semifinals and in an epic seventh match. It was precisely in 2007-08 when Danny Ainge formed a dream squad in Boston (Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Rondo ...), one that won the championship with Doc Rivers on the benches and arrived in 2012 old and tired, but ready, as always, to fight. And it was that year in which they were one step away from knocking down one of the most talented projects ever, eliminating their nemesis again and leaving a team formed to win in the picture that could not afford another year. waiting after the failure (so considered) of the 2011 Finals against the Mavericks.

In those playoffs, by the way, they had eliminated the Celtics in the semifinals, with a Shaquille who was in his last season and with many physical problems and a team that was far from the one that had sneaked into the 2010 Finals. 4- 1 was the result of a sobering series and everything seemed to indicate that the 2012 Eastern Finals were going the same way. The series began with a 2-0 for the Heat that seemed to put everything on track, despite the efforts of an immeasurable Rondo who was curdling the playoffs of his life and went to 44 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists in the 53 minutes that the game lasted, resolved in extra time. The Celtics pulled their particular pride in the Garden and tied the tie when everyone thought they were dead. And they won the fifth game, going 3-2 with a sixth at home, where the connection with their audience was greater than at any other court. The Celtics, with a rejuvenated Garnett (he had just turned 36), were one step away from the third Finals of the project, but LeBron appeared for the first time and surpassed the man who does not appear in the important moments for, with 45 points , 15 rebounds and 5 assists, ended up silencing the Garden and sentenced Florida back, on the way to its third Finals and its first ring against the Thunder. And incidentally, to lay the first stone in a redemption with the public who today contemplate in amazement as follows at a supreme level with 35 years and forgets, in general lines (there are always exceptions) the animosity that he felt towards him in those times.

Eight years have passed since that historic tie and things have changed in both franchises. Danny Ainge used his head before his heart and took advantage of Prokhorov's greed to send his stars to the Big Apple (to the Nets) to rebuild a team that would lead a young genius from Butler University, Brad Stevens, who he entered the competition with the same age as Kevin Garnett was at that time. Since then, the project has only grown, clashing with Kyrie's mental handicaps last year but bouncing back in this, with the benefit of going undercover and a bang, that of Jayson Tatum, one of the many players raised under the tutelage of a Stevens who has reaffirmed himself as a genius and has put his team in the third East finals since landing in Boston. In front, another genius like Erik Spoelstra, who leads a team whose visible face is Butler but who plays spectacular basketball, exploiting the weaknesses of the rival and doing the simple things to beat rivals who arrived as contenders and have been swimming in a sea of doubts. And all, under the protective mantle of the eternal (and eternal) shadow of a Pat Riley who has created the project at will, with young people from the draft and others who have not, overcoming the gap left by LeBron and firing Wade as he deserved before putting the direct with people like Adebayo and company and seizing a golden opportunity that has led them to the last East tie for the first time since 2014, LeBron's last year in Miami and last Finals they played, with redemption and revenge of the Spurs (4-1) and a last ring for the pair formed by Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich.

The tactical battle on the benches

Eight years later, Spoelstra is still where it was, being the last stronghold of that champion team of 2012 and 2013, with the Celtics facing without any survivors of those years. Out there are Danny Ainge and Pat Riley, two immovable beings in the offices who will observe how their projects, at different times, are played for a position in the Finals and a series that appears to be very long and very tactical, with two coaches whose Worth has been demonstrated too much and that they are going to propose many and very varied formulas to see the rival fall. Stevens has been reaffirmed in his position time and time again by Ainge, and it's a personal call from the former player for green pride to flourish again. Butler's ex has always made the Garden a fortress, has managed to emerge unscathed against theoretically superior rivals (the 2018 Sixers with Rozier as the starting point guard) and has developed his players to the maximum, keeping them away from the spotlight after the departure of a Kyrie with which he never felt comfortable and distributing the ball again in that collaborative style in which he feels represented. There is always some room for improvisation in his game scheme, which goes from defense to attack, with constant defensive changes and double defenses that force difficult shots and risky passes. And with an orderly offense, with the extra pass in mind, everyone involved and space for the individualities of Jaylen Brown, Kemba or Tatum, that man from another planet who comes from being All Star and averaging 25.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists so far in the playoffs.

For their part, the Heat are the ultimate representation of the man who practically created them, the one who put them on the map when he arrived in 1996, leaving the Knicks and resigning in the final year of the most lucrative contract ever signed by a NBA coach. NBA (then Phil Jackson would come to the Lakers). And Spoelstra is an extension of Riley himself, becoming what in his day the boss wanted to turn Stan Van Gundy without success (Shaquille had something to do) forcing him (very reluctantly he did not) to go down to the bench in 2005 -06 and conquer the fifth ring of his coaching career with one of the largest agglomerations of egos (Shaq, Wade, Williams, Payton, Walker, Mourning, Haslem) ever seen. Today, Spoelstra has transformed its squad into the maximum representation of Riley's greatest talent: firm pillars but a cold formwork, easily mutated, capable of adapting to changes in style and eras, knowing how to play differently depending on the rival and developing his own qualities to the maximum while doing the same with the defects of the team in front of him. This is how they prevented Antetokounmpo from running in the semis, with a barrier always made up of three players that prevented him from penetrating and forced him to pass, shoot from suspension or from the triple, qualities that the Greek has not finished developing. And so is Riley, a chameleonic man, capable of creating Showtime and then traveling to the East and understanding that basketball was an immediate heir to the Bad Boys and not to Magic Johson (never has a style depended so much on a single player). The coach was then able to entrench himself back with the Knicks and then with the Heat until the basketball changed again, with him always knowing how to keep up.

In the series that Miami faces the Celtics, the story will be different, and everything that one has thought will have been thought by the other, who comes from beating another tactical genius like Nurse with greater difficulties than those of Budenholzer, a technician with a single plan and few resources to get around it when necessary. And of plans, you know, Stevens and Spoelstra are left over, and everything they will do to end a rival that they have perfectly studied (2-1 for the Celtics, the last of those duels falling in the bubble), may vary and adapt to a series in which Boston starts with a slight advantage in favoritism, but comes, let's not forget, of playing seven grueling games (including a sixth with two overtime) against a Raptors who have not given up and who have defended with strength and soul a championship that they won last year and that will have, with their elimination, a new winner.

Butler, Tatum, Adebayo ... and Smart

There are many proper names in the series and numerous protagonists who have, separately, their particular history. Jaylen Brown and his extreme intelligence have been protagonists in a break marked by the murder of George Floyd, the fight for racial justice and the demonstrations that he himself has led. Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson are two other robberies of Riley, two people who have not even been chosen in the draft and who have the world in their hands: the first was passed by the Warriors and the second has a capacity to score of three a few times seen in the NBA and that is a natural gift that stands out even now, in the middle of the triple era. In fact, he has averaged 8.3 shots of three per game in the regular season (with a 44.6% accuracy) ... and 1.1 of two. With a mechanics and a style, everything must be said, typical of a pure shooter (it also goes to 93.1% in triples). There is Jaw Crowder, a former Boston player who will face his teammates. And there is also Kemba Walker, that man who came to replace Kyrie, a fool who would be if it weren't for the fact that the current Nets player even questioned the project. And Kemba, a teammate everyone is delighted with, has been revived in a home that already feels like his own leaving behind unsuccessful years with the Hornets. And Daniel Theis, that five who is the weak link in the Celtics' starting five but who is reaffirming and vindicating himself. Or Tyler Herro, another rookie who nobody knows where he came from (from the draft, this one) and who averages 14.7 points in the playoffs with 40% in triples.

And then there are the heroes, just missing. The visible faces within two sets in which the collective first versus the individual, but who have their strong men for hot moments. Something that is almost necessarily needed to win a championship and that the Raptors have lacked, with a Lowry trying to assume that role (something that he has achieved at times) and with a Siakam who was called to star in it but has given a downturn in the final phase that has been noticed a lot. At 26 years old (22.9 + 7.3 in regular season, 17 in the playoffs and 14.9 in the semifinals with 38% in shots and 12,% in triples) he will have time to assume that responsibility in the same way as already Tatum has done it, who at only 21 has been growing during the season and has shot with almost 40% in triples in the semifinals. Against Miami he has played two of the three games this season and the conclusions are difficult to draw, with 23 points in the first (2 of 12 in triples) and 19 in the second, in the bubble and with defeat. He can be the differential factor and the man the Celtics give the ball to in hot moments. A ball that, be careful, many can take on both templates. Although there are certain players who will be in front of others to do it, of course.

Butler is the other side of the coin and another of the great stories of the season. After leaving the Sixers by his own intention and the approval of a franchise that did little or nothing to retain him (a clear error as seen), the forward has averaged 19.9 points in the regular season (another All Star) and 21, 8 in playoffs with 50% on triples. 23.4 + 5.8 + 4.4 in the semifinals, with 53.2% from the field goal from the field and 45.5% from the line of three, including an opening duel of 40 points. Butler has found the jewel in his crown in the Heat youth group that he didn't find in the Wolves, and he knows how to become a role man when he has to and take on stripes when necessary. His two games against Boston have been 20 and 37 points (12 of 18 and 6 of 10), and both with loss. And Adebayo, the quintessence of the evolution of the 21st century player, has finished in 15.9 + 10.2 + 51 the regular season, 15 + 11, + 5.3 the first round and 17.2 + 12 + 4, 4 against the Bucks, being the ideal defender against Giannis and the maximum representation of both sides of the team's court, with a tremendous improvement and a more than deserved All Star.

And then there is Iguodala. He will play his sixth consecutive Conference final, the same ones that the last competitive version of the Pistons' Bad Boys played between 2003 and 2008. And less than those that LeBron played between 2011 and 2018. In short, something within the reach of very few and Another signing that seemed like an ordeal for the Heat (he will collect 17 million this season and they have renewed it) but that has helped the franchise to reach the third best defensive rating in these playoffs. He averages only 29% in triples, but he appears at very specific moments (less than 21 minutes per game) and to establish a defense that works without him. Another great story to be told and that played the icnco last Conference finals with the Warriors (three rings) ... and the NBA. It looks like an amulet and you just have to see if it repeats. Against, we have not said, the best defensive rating of the final phase, that of the Celtics.

And then there's Marcus Smart. The man who sees everything, the omnipresent, the one who is always in everything and transmits more passion than anyone on the court in the current NBA, with only some very specific comparisons. Little thing counted Philadelphia (8.5 points per game and poor shooting percentages) and impressive against the Raptors beyond its already great statistic (15.7 + 6 + 5.1, with 39.3% in triples and a 23 + 11 + 10 in the sixth game). Smart is everything to the Celtics, the most loyal man, the one who goes to lift his teammate first and faces an opponent if he senses a lack of respect. Smart is the heir to that green pride that Bill Russell once represented, he passed through Larry Bird, he always had someone like Red Auerbach and was represented a decade ago by Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. If Tatum, Brown or Kemba are the talent, Smart is the soul, the passion, the honor of some Celtics who want to return to the top and are looking for the 18th ring in their history, the one they did not get in 2010 and are fighting to recover on his third chance in four years. And without forgetting that seventh game lost at home in 2018 (the only one in which they lost at the Garden in all the playoffs), with a gargantuan shooting crisis that weakened the locals and allowed LeBron to emerge victorious again. A man who, no matter how much he weighs in Boston, is the absolute antagonist of his last decade.

You will remember when in 2014 Danny Ainge criticized Lebron and Pat Riley replied that as a player he was "the biggest crybaby" as a player. Well, that rivalry is back. One that is not historical because it belongs to recent history, but that has marked the hobbies and will be in a series in which, as in the entire bubble, predictions are impossible to make. We will see when and how Gordon Hayward returns and how the first two games will unfold to get some idea that we will have an exciting and tactical duel in equal parts. With many doses of epic (something that can happen) and we'll see if controversial (that too). We do not know if in the West we will see a Lakers-Clippers or the purple and gold will face the exceptional resistance of the Nuggets. But we better be attentive to what happens in that not-so-bad Conference of a tie from which, we do not know, the next NBA champion. The green pride and glamor of a heavenly being named Pat Riley. The franchise with more rings than any against what, win or not, has already written its next great adventure escaping from the long (very long) shadow of LeBron. The Eastern finals begin. What we don't know is when they will end. Of course, with these two teams, that is impossible.

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