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Celtics and Heat offer interesting matchups

04.28.11 at 1:40 pm ET
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Don't expect to see Rajon Rondo guard LeBron James again during the playoffs. (AP)

All along the Celtics and Heat figured that they would meet in the playoffs.”It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t go through them,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters in Miami after his team eliminated Philadelphia on Wednesday.

The Celtics had a similar reaction. “We assumed when they put this team together, at some point if we want to put another banner up then we’ll probably have to go through them,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before the team went through practice on Thursday.

Now that it’s upon us expect no small amount of hype to emerge. But when you break through the thicket of noise, the thing that makes this series so compelling from a basketball standpoint are the individual matchups. There are seven members of the 2011 Eastern Conference All-Star team competing in this series and six of them will be matched directly against each other:

Dwyane Wade vs. Ray Allen

LeBron James vs. Paul Pierce

Chris Bosh vs. Kevin Garnett

Expect the Celtics to approach their defensive assignments in a straightforward manner.

“The numbers bare out when we guard our own guys we’re pretty good and when we guard other guys we’re pretty bad, against this team in particular,” Rivers said. “They may look good on paper and they look good visually for two minutes, statistically they’ve been horrendous for us.”

Rivers was referring directly to the fullcourt defense Rajon Rondo employed against James in the Celtics 85-82 win back in February. While Rondo’s gambit stirred the Garden crowd and provided some inspirational moments, once the postgame fog of exuberance gave way to sober analysis, the matchup did more harm than good for the Celtics.

But Rondo is the wild card in this series because asking Mike Bibby or Mario Chalmers to stay with him for 48 minutes may be asking too much. That could mean Wade or James switching their assignments to try to contain Rondo. “We’ll see one of those guys guarding Rondo, which means one of them aren’t guarding Ray or Paul, so we’re good with all those,” Rivers said.

One thing the Celtics want to avoid are having to rely on double-teams or switches, but that’s easier said than done against this team.

“Every time we’ve overhelped in any series, including the New York series, we tend to hurt ourselves more than just playing our solid one-on-one defense with support,” Rivers said. “They run some stuff that’s honestly difficult to not switch, but we really try to avoid the switch as much as possible.”

Beyond the starters, Delonte West and Jeff Green will be asked to provide support.

“Jeff is going to have to be a great defender,” Rivers said. “He ran into that in the New York series where by the end of the series he was terrific on Carmelo [Anthony. That’s gives us another big, athletic body." Asked if Green could help with Wade, Rivers said,  "We may do it in stretches, but you’re asking for trouble in the long run."

SHAQ UPDATE

The plan is for Shaquille O'Neal to participate in the walkthrough segment of Thursday's practice and then try to get on the floor for for the full session on Friday. The Celtics will fly to Miami on Saturday so Friday will be the last chance for O'Neal to get on the floor before Sunday's Game 1.

KEEPING PERSPECTIVE

The Celtics know the hype will approach histrionic levels throughout the series, but they also know this is ultimately just one step in a larger process.

"It's the second round," Paul Pierce said. "It's the halfway point of where our goal is. I know there's going to be a lot of hype around it, like it's a championship series, but you've got to understand it's still just the second round. But a very big second round [series] because you’ve got two potential teams that can win it all. I’m excited. This is a great stage for basketball. It’s going to be great for fans and the guys that we have here love these type of series.”

PIERCE VS. LEBRON, III

Pierce has faced James two other times in the playoffs and the Celtics have won both series. In 2008 they beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game epic that featured brilliant Game 7 performances for both players. James scored 45 points in the 97-92 Celtics win, while Pierce went for 41 of his own. James got the better of Pierce in their individual matchup last season, but the Celtics won in six games.

Asked if it was personal for James to finally get past the Celtics, Pierce said, “Probably so at this point. When you lose to a team consecutive times in the playoffs — I mean, it would be personal for me. I’m sure he’s going to take it personal and you’ve got to expect his best.”

Read More: Celtics, Heat, LeBron James, Paul Pierce
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