|First meeting||November 15, 1988|
Celtics 84, Heat 65
|Latest meeting||May 29, 2023|
Celtics 84, Heat 103
|Next meeting||October 27, 2023|
|All-time series||BOS: 97–73|
|Regular season series||BOS: 80–53|
|Postseason results||MIA: 20-17|
|Longest win streak||BOS, 10|
|Current win streak||MIA, 1|
Since first meeting in 1988, the Celtics hold an 80–53 lead in the rivalry's regular season series, while the Heat hold a 4–2 lead in playoff series (20–17 in individual playoff games). Media writers generally state that the rivalry between the two teams solidified in the 2010s, after both teams formed "Big Threes" that began to face each other in multiple consecutive playoff matchups. The two teams have met each other in four Eastern Conference Finals (ECF): 2012 (Heat), 2020 (Heat), 2022 (Celtics), and 2023 (Heat).
While the Boston Celtics formed in 1946, the Miami Heat began play in 1988 as an expansion franchise. The Celtics and Heat first played against each other on November 15, 1988; playing on the road, the Celtics defeated the Heat 84–65. Boston would win their first ten matchups against Miami.
An April 1991 game between the two sides featured the Celtics' Reggie Lewis scoring a career high 42 points in a 119–109 win for Boston. In December 1995, the Celtics won a double overtime game against the Heat, 121–120.
Boston and Miami's Big Threes
The two teams met in the playoffs for the first time in 2010, in the First round. The 4-seed Celtics were led by their Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. The 5-seed Heat were led by Dwyane Wade, who averaged 33.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in the series. During the first game of the series, Garnett elbowed Heat forward Quentin Richardson, after Richardson walked up to Paul Pierce while injured insinuating Pierce was faking his injury. This led to an on-court dust-up between the two sides and as a result, Garnett received a suspension for game two of the series and Richardson was fined. The Celtics won the series 4–1.
During the subsequent offseason, the Heat signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Along with Wade, the three formed Miami's own "Big Three". James announced his decision to sign with the Heat in The Decision, a television special which garnered him much criticism. James in particular had developed a personal rivalry with the Celtics during his time with Cleveland Cavaliers, as the Celtics eliminated the Cavaliers in the playoffs in 2008 and 2010. NBA.com writer John Schuhmann wrote: "If the Celtics' big three didn't come together in 2007 via a pair of big trades, the Heat's big three probably wouldn't have come together last summer via free agency. Boston is the blueprint. Miami is the newer, more talented version." The NBA scheduled the Celtics and Heat to play against each other for the 2010–11 NBA season's opening day.
Toward the end of 2010, the New York Times wrote on a Celtics win over the New York Knicks: "With their win over the Knicks on Wednesday, the Celtics conquered the NBA, though Boston fans now demonize the Miami Heat as surrogate Yankees," referencing the Yankees–Red Sox rivalry.
Now with James and Bosh on the roster, the two teams met in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals. As the 2-seed, the Heat had home court advantage over the 3-seed Celtics. James called the series "personal" for him, citing his losses to the Celtics while a member of the Cavaliers. In game five of the series, Wade and James scored 34 and 33, respectively. James went on a 10–0 scoring run to close out game, securing a 4–1 series win for the Heat. This would be the last time the two teams faced off in the playoffs before the Conference Finals.
The Celtics and Heat once again faced off in the postseason in 2012, this time in the Eastern Conference finals (ECF). The Heat were the 2-seed, while the Celtics were the 4-seed, giving the Heat home court advantage. James fouled out of game four, while Wade missed a potential game-winning basket at the buzzer. Later, down 3–2 in the series, the Heat went on the road to face the Celtics in game six of the series. Helping the Heat tie the series, James scored 45 points and also recorded 15 rebounds and 5 assists. Praised by basketball media at the time, sportswriters have also retrospectively noted James' game six performance as one of his best and most important. The Heat won the series 4–3 after winning in game seven, 101–88. James later stated that he feared a loss to the Celtics in 2012 would have caused the Heat's Big Three to break up prior to winning a championship.
With these three straight postseason meetings, the Heat's rivalry with the Celtics became their most notable since their rivalry with the Knicks, according to Bleacher Report. Boston's Rajon Rondo also played a pivotal role in the rivalry during this period. Writing for Business Insider, Tony Manfred stated much of the rivalry was based on off-court narratives, but called Rondo "the only reason these two team have an actual on-court rivalry." Writing for Bleacher Report, Jason Reindollar called the rivalry between the two teams "official" following their 2012 ECF matchup.
During the offseason, Allen signed with the Heat. A rift between Allen and Rondo was cited as a factor for Allen's departure from Boston. Garnett, Rondo, and Pierce were reported to hold a grudge with Allen for multiple years after. Doc Rivers, who coached the Celtics from 2004 to 2013, has discussed the rift and taken blame for it. The two teams opened up their 2012–13 NBA season playing against each other in Miami. The game continued the rivalry's intense and physical nature, with Rondo being noted to grab Wade around the neck in the game. During the season, the Heat achieved a 27-game win streak, which included a game against the Celtics. The game featured James finishing a fast break by dunking on Jason Terry, a "personal rival" of James' according to Brian Windhorst.
The two front offices would get involved in the rivalry in the middle of the 2012–13 season. During a radio interview, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge criticized James for his complaints about officiating, causing Heat general manager Pat Riley to issue a statement, saying "Danny Ainge needs to shut the fuck up and manage his own team. He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing, and I know that because I coached against him." In response, Ainge would issue a statement of his own: "I stand by what I said. That's all. I don't care about Pat Riley. He can say whatever he wants. I don't want to mess up his Armani suits and all that hair goop. It would be way too expensive for me." The two were noted to have a personal rivalry stemming for 30 years, going back to when Ainge played for the Celtics and Riley was the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Ainge would eventually tell The Boston Globe "we're both right. LeBron should stop complaining and I should manage my own team." Both head coaches expressed amusement with the exchange between their general managers, with Rivers calling it "cool" and jokingly suggesting that Riley and Ainge "should duke it out", and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stating "I love direct GM to GM communication. That's awesome."
Conference Finals matchups in the 2020s
The Celtics and Heat once again met in the ECF in 2020. The Heat's Udonis Haslem was the only remaining player from the two teams' prior playoff meeting. The 3-seed Celtics were led by a core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. The 5-seed Heat were led by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The series took place at a neutral "bubble" site in Orlando due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In game four, rookie Heat guard Tyler Herro scored 37 points, becoming the fourth player aged 20 or younger to score 30 points in the NBA playoffs. The Heat won the series 4–2.
Two years later, the Celtics and Heat faced off against each other in another ECF matchup. Sportswriters noted the series as having drastic swings, calling it an "ugly" and "physical, back-and-forth" affair. Writing for Sports Illustrated, Chris Mannix commented that game five was a particularly bad viewing experience, citing the two teams' poor offensive performances. Down 3–2 in the series, Butler scored 47 points, while also grabbing nine rebounds and recording eight assists to help Miami force a game seven. Butler's performance drew comparisons to James' 45-point performance from a decade prior. Down by two with under a minute left in the game, Butler attempted a three-pointer to put the Heat ahead but missed. The Celtics defeated the Heat 100–96 on the road in game seven, winning the series and clinching a berth in the 2022 Finals. Jayson Tatum scored 26 points in the game for the Celtics. He was awarded the inaugural Larry Bird Trophy, given to the top performer of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The NBA introduced a "Rivals Week" in the 2022–23 season; the Heat and Celtics faced off against each other during the week. The two teams once again met in the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals, with the Celtics entering the series as a second seed, and the Heat as the eighth seed. Prior to the series, ESPN Analytics gave the Heat a 3% chance of making the Finals. Despite this, the Heat would take a 3–0 series lead. The Celtics would respond by winning the next three games, punctuated with a go-ahead shot with 0.2 seconds left on the clock by Derrick White during Game 6 in Miami. In doing so, the Celtics became the fourth team in NBA history to force a Game 7 after going down 0–3, and the only one to force a Game 7 at home. Miami would still win the next game in Boston, resulting in the Heat becoming the second eighth-seeded team in NBA history to reach the Finals. Butler would win the Larry Bird trophy as the Eastern Conference Finals Most Valuable Player, becoming the second player to win the trophy, after Tatum.
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