So it has come to this. After more than five weeks of analyzing possible challengers to the throne currently held by the Los Angeles Lakers our journey has reached it's final stop with the most logical and perhaps, most anticipated team in the East.
San Antonio, Denver, Cleveland, and Orlando would all be worthy opponents to the Lakers, and all have a realistic chance of derailing their championship hopes, but the Boston Celtics provide a higher tier of obstacles both physically and mentally.
Boston, out of the three elite Eastern Conference teams, are the only ones to have tasted the nectar of an NBA championship, and they have the swagger and the confidence in their abilities to fully believe they are destined to return.
It is no small matter that the Celtics' 2008 championship came at the expense of the Lakers, and likewise the fashion in which Boston was coronated was brutal and humiliating to the Lakers and their pysche.
Los Angeles was battered and beaten-down in a 40 point humbling, Game Six defeat that was the signature piece to a series in which the Lakers were out-muscled, out-manned, and completely out-performed.
The loss on Boston's home floor was significant because it forced the Lakers to evaluate themselves, and their ability to get tougher physically and mentally. The mental part was the hardest because the Celtics' victory was so thorough.
The Lakers were able to assume some identity of a physically stronger team in 2009, and their mental state seemed to be intact as they ran a blitzkrieg on the Western Conference and a memorable re-match seemed inevitable.
Then Kevin Garnett was injured, de-railing the possible re-match as the Celtics gave a valiant, but vain performance in a playoff loss to the eventual Finals runner-up, Orlando Magic.
As everyone knows, the Lakers were the champions in 2009 and the affirmation of a fifteenth championship was great. But had it came against the Celtics, it would have been better.
Boston forward Paul Pierce went as far to hint that the Lakers were the beneficiary of Garnett's injury, and that was the only thing that prevented Boston froming repeating as champions.
With a healthy Garnett in the fold the Celtics appear to have the roster to back up the bold bravado of Pierce. Their roster is similar to L.A.'s in talent and size, and Boston may hold an edge on the bench.
The acquisition of Rasheed Wallace gives the Celtics a formidable trio of Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, and Wallace in the post, and they all present different degress of difficulty in match-ups.
Wallace has the ability to drift on the perimeter, and that could keep Laker forward, Pau Gasol from his comfort area which is generally about fifteen feet extended.
Gasol has the talent to be effective on defense against Wallace, but his absence in the paint could open up other areas for Boston, namely giving space for Perkins to operate.
Perkins is a tremendously strong and physical center, who will prove to be a challenge to Laker center, Andrew Bynum. Bynum has the tools to dominate their pairing, but he has to exhibit the mental resolve, and show that he will not be pushed around.
Garnett, when healthy is one of the best power forwards in the game. He is long, versatile, athletic, and has a competitive mean-streak that can be demoralizing and belittling.
He has the ability to drift from the post and his passing skills make him a threat in the pick-and-roll. Lamar Odom will be matched-up with Garnett on occassin, and he is probably the best Laker to be charged with the task.
Odom has the length, skills, and range to defend Garnett, but he has to be passionate in his assignment and recognize the need to rotate off and defend the basket, because you can expect the Celtics' perimeter players to be cutting to the rim.
Rajon Rondo has blossomed at the point guard position and his speed, penetration, strength, and size could pose considerable problems for the Lake Show.
He has the speed to get by most of the Laker guards, and the muscle to finish at the rim. The Lakers will find themselves forced to help out, and racing to cover Ray Allen and Pierce on the perimeter.
Allen seems to have visibly lost a step, but he remains one of the better shooters in the NBA. He has become streaky of late, but he would have to be accounted for by the Los Angeles defense.
Pierce is a creature of a different sort, because he prefers to penetrate to get his shot, and he utilizes his mid-range game to the full extent.
However, Ron Artest is just the type of foil that the Lakers' lacked in 2008.
Artest is a defensive monster and lives for the opportunity to defend a player like Pierce, and his presence should allow Kobe Bryant to keep a close eye on Allen around the arc.
The Celtic bench improved with the arrival of Marquise Daniels and Shelden Williams, and the shooting skills of Eddie House can be impressive.
Daniels is able to spell Rondo at the point guard position and that allows House to move to the two guard spot where he is more comfortable. They will provide a stern test for the inconsistent Laker reserves.
Laker coach, Phil Jackson is a better coach than Boston's Doc Rivers, but Rivers has the confidence of argueably out-coaching Jackson in the 2008 Finals. He definitely had the Celtics prepared to play.
If the Lakers and Celtics should meet in the Finals, they are so evenly matched in their rosters that the series would likely hinge on the Lakers' mental fortitude and the ability to man up against the physical Celtics.
This is the re-match the world would love to see. Paul Pierce has issued the challenge, and if the stars align, Kobe Bryant and his Laker team are more than eager to answer the call.