Ainge criticism of James draws heat

Even when the Heat and Celtics aren’t facing off in a contentious regular-season game or a vicious playoff series, their distaste for one another continues.

On Friday, Heat president Pat Riley and LeBron James fired back at Danny Ainge after the Celtics’ president of basketball operations called James’s complaint of hard fouls in a recent game “embarrassing.”

James told reporters in New Orleans, “I’m not surprised to hear anything from Boston.”

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Riley was a bit more forceful in his comments, which were released through a team spokesman.

“He needs to shut the [expletive] up and manage his own team,” Riley said. “He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing. I know that because I coached against him.”

When told by the Globe of Riley’s comments before the Celtics beat the Hawks, 118-107, at TD Garden, Ainge laughed, unaware his statements about James would spark such controversy.

“What did I say?” Ainge asked. “I would say we’re both right. LeBron should stop complaining. I complained as a player and I should manage my own team. We’re both right.”

When asked if he complained to officials as a player, Ainge said, “Oh, heavens yes. It’s not a secret. Pat Riley’s right. I should manage my own team and I complained a lot [as a player]. And I’m right. LeBron should be embarrassed by how he complains about the calls he gets. We’re both right.”

Riley’s comments followed comments that Ainge made to WEEI that James shouldn’t challenge officials for failing to classify two hard fouls he received in Wednesday’s loss to Chicago as flagrant fouls.

“I think that it’s almost embarrassing that LeBron would complain about officiating,” Ainge said.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers called the back and forth between Ainge and Riley “funny and very interesting.”

“I think they should duke it out,” Rivers added.

When Riley coached the Lakers, his team faced Ainge and the Celtics in the 1984, ’85, and ’87 NBA Finals; Riley’s Lakers won in ’85 and ’87.

Will their heated exchange add to the fire of a potential Celtics-Heat playoff series?

“Not unless they’re playing,” Rivers said of Ainge and Riley. “Really, I just think it’s talk both ways. I’ll let those two grown men handle their own grown-men argument. I’m going to stay out of it. On a side note, it gives me a smile and I think it’s fun. It’s a flashback.”

Rondo on hand

Rajon Rondo returned to the Celtics’ bench for the first time since the All-Star point guard was declared out for the season with a knee injury on Jan. 27.

Rondo, wearing a navy jacket and jeans at the game, had a successful surgery in mid-February and is doing rehab.

“He’ll definitely be with the team a lot,” Ainge said of Rondo’s return. “I don’t know if he’ll be with the team constantly and all the time, but he’ll be with the team.

“I’m not sure if he’ll travel. I think he’ll keep doing two-a-day rehab and all that, but I think he’ll be with them when they’re at home, for sure. And maybe when playoffs come around, he might want to go with the team on the road.

“We’ll have to figure that out and what’s best for his rehab.”

Lee returns to action

After missing three games with a sprained left ankle, guard Courtney Lee returned to action, playing six minutes off the bench. He scored 2 points.

Lee did not appear limited, but Rivers opted to give heavy minutes to Terrence Williams, Jordan Crawford, and Jason Terry instead.

Healthy new year

Friday marked the one-year anniversary of Celtics center Chris Wilcox having open-heart surgery to repair an enlarged aorta.

“It’s another milestone. Now, no more excuses,” Rivers said, half-joking. “That’s what I told him today. I didn’t give him the love I think he was looking for.

“But, yeah, it’s really cool. I think we do forget that he had the same surgery and a lot later than Jeff [Green]. Maybe part of his struggles early is the same thing. It’s good that he’s here and it’s good that he’s playing for us.”

The 30-year-old Wilcox started and had 4 points and three rebounds in 13 minutes.

Go-to guy

After Green made a buzzer-beating layup to give the Celtics a 93-92 win Wednesday in Cleveland, Paul Pierce pointed out how Green’s ability to make big shots makes the Celtics more dangerous.

“It’s huge for us because now you’ve got another guy that’s gaining confidence at the end of games that knows he can get it done,” Pierce said. “I’ve done it, you’ve seen Jason Terry — he’s done it. You’ve seen Kevin [Garnett] do it. So now you’ve got another guy, you add that dimension. That can get scary when you’ve got four guys capable in a close game of winning games.”