The Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics are ready to being their much anticipated playoff matchup.
We saw the Celtics take three of the four meetings this year. The C's looked to have the edge until the final matchup of the season, when the Heat threw down a convincing 100-77 victory.
It's going to be a fantastic series. Don't be surprised if the winner of this series represents the East in the NBA finals. Both teams are extremely talented, and both seem to be playing strong basketball right now.
The playoffs always gives us a few surprise matchups and X-factors, but take a look at what I've identified as the most important matchups for this series.
Dan is a Boston Celtics featured columnist. Follow him on twitter @dantheman_06.
Dwayne Wade was quiet in all four meetings against the Celtics this year, due in no small part to the defensive efforts of Ray Allen.
Against the C's Wade shot just 16-57 (28 percent), averaging just about 13 points per contest. Wade is too talented a player to underperform for an entire series, but if the Celtics can take Wade out of the equation on most nights then they'll be in great shape.
On the flip side, the Heat haven't had an answer for Ray this year. He's gotten to them for 20 point and 35 point games, and he's shot a combined 16-28 from long distance against them this year, making at least two threes in each game.
The issue for the Heat is that they don't have big men with the necessary skillsets to help out on the screen game. Ilgauskas and Bosh are both long enough, but neither are great defenders. Joel Anthony and James Jones are both capable of giving help defense, but neither are long enough or quick enough to throw off Allen.
The Heat are going to need someone to help Wade out; he can't run through screens for an entire series and expect to shut down Ray Allen all by himself.
James has always been a tough guard for Pierce (well, duh). Going back to their matchups when James was with Cleveland, Pierce has always looked for his offense second when tasked with the challenge of guarding James.
This was exemplified in the Celtics and Heat's third matchup of the season. In 40 minutes, Pierce scored just one point, shooting 0-10 from the floor. It was one of the worst offensive nights of his career.
Meanwhile, James was busy dropping 22 points on 10-21 shooting, albeit in a losing effort.
Pierce did have three nice offensive games against the Heat this year, but the moral of the story is that guarding LeBron James takes a lot out of you (again, well duh). I'm not saying Pierce is going to have a stinker of a series, but there may be a few nights where his offensive contributions are sporadic.
The key for Pierce is his effort on the boards. Even when matched up against James, Pierce shouldn't have a problem getting onto the glass. Even if he's struggling to find his shot, he can help start the offensive break by rebounding the ball, getting himself and his teammates easy transition looks.
Paul Pierce can't guard LeBron James for 48 minutes a game. Green will see some decent minutes matched up against James, especially since the Celtics have taken to running a rotation with Pierce at the two and Green at the three.
Any offense that Green gives the Celtics is a bonus. He'll have his hands full with James on the defensive end, especially since he was rarely challenged in the sweep against New York.
Green (and the Celtics bench in general) was practically non-existent through the first three games of the Knicks series. While the bench was better as a unit in game four, Green didn't exactly light it up.
Green has the athleticism and length to disrupt James. He has the potential to be a huge X-factor in this series.
Surprised? This might be the most evenly matched individual matchup between the two sides.
We know KG should be able to handle Bosh easily enough on the offensive side. However, if KG really wants to take the edge, he has to keep Bosh out of the paint and away from the offensive glass especially.
The Celtics have struggled keeping teams off the offensive boards all year, and an athletic team like the Heat could exploit that if the C's aren't careful.
Bosh is a more than capable jump shooter, but if you're Kevin Garnett, you want him taking contested jumpers rather than easy putback dunks and layups.
A revitalized Jermaine O'Neal has the chance to really exploit his matchup against Joel Anthony. Anthony is an above average defender, but O'Neal has displayed newfound confidence to knock down his jumper.
Anthony doesn't have the height or the size to defend a turn around baseline jumper or a straight up jump shot, both of which O'Neal utilizes.
Anthony's value comes as a shotblocker around the rim. He'll have to be ferocious in order to equalize this matchup.
Since returning from knee surgery, Jermaine O'Neal has displayed improved quickness and conditioning. This has aided him greatly in defending the pick and roll.
O'Neal won't have to worry much about leaving the likes of Joel Anthony—who doesn't provide much offense—alone, so he can afford to show heavy on the pick and roll. This will be key in keeping guys like LeBron James and Dwayne Wade out of the paint.
Don't be surprised to see the Celtics bring JO on the double team in select defensive scenarios as well.
When you go on an individual by individual basis, the Celtics clearly hold the edge when it comes to bench talent:
Glen Davis vs. Joel Anthony or Ilgauskas
Delonte West vs. Mario Chalmers
Jeff Green vs. James Jones
The problem is that the Heat have a fairly reliable rotation. They know what they're getting out of their guys, while the Celtics don't. The bench stunk for the Celtics against the Knicks, and they'll need to be better if they want to beat the Heat.
The tempo of the offense can't change when the bench comes into the game, because the Celtics can't afford to go through long scoreless streaks against a disciplined Miami team. It puts too much pressure on the defense, and it gives an athletic team like the Heat way too many opportunities to score in transition. At the very least, the bench will have to keep the scoring difference the same during their minutes on the floor.
If the Heat can take advantage of the Celtics' bench problems, then they'll have a great chance of winning the series.
Mike Bibby can't stay with Rondo. Chalmers has a better chance, but isn't good enough to stay with him consistently when Rondo is playing aggressively.
We've seen teams put their star player on Rondo before, and don't be surprised if the Heat switch Wade or even James onto him to slow him down.
If you're Rondo, that's what you want. Getting the Heat to change their defensive scheme means that more scoring opportunities will open up for the rest of the Celtics. It means that Rondo is playing well enough on the offensive end to warrant special attention.
It will be interesting to see what strategies the Heat employ on Rondo. If the Celtics want to win, they'll need him playing like himself: attacking the rim aggressively and creating for his teammates off the fastbreak.