NBA Finals: Lakers-Celtics matchups to watch

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Kobe Bryant vs. Ray Allen

This postseason has given Bryant a "redemption" list to check off. He sought to silence those who proclaimed that he lost a step after being surpassed as arguably the game's best player by two-time defending MVP LeBron James. He wanted to eliminate the Phoenix Suns, who provided his two most embarrassing playoff ousters. And now he gets his shot at a fifth NBA championship -- which would put him past Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan and tie him with Magic Johnson and move him within one of Michael Jordan -- against the hated Boston Celtics, the same team that throttled him and the Lakers in the NBA Finals two years ago. Bryant and Allen have never hidden their disdain for each other, and Allen took pleasure in flustering Bryant two years ago. Allen never had a memorable wheelchair moment, but he quietly was the Celtics' most consistent player in their last Finals appearance. He has continued to play at a high level despite being the oldest starter on the Celtics.

-- Advantage: Lakers

Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest

Pierce has always been irked that he was never a part of the league's best player discussion, so he used that snub -- and a favorable matchup-- to will himself to the NBA Finals MVP two years ago. Pierce, who grew up in the shadow of The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., is hoping to get his second title at the expense of the Lakers. At 32, Pierce hasn't been able to dominate offensively with the regularity he did in 2008, but he has always delivered in Boston's most desperate moments -- including a 31-point, 13-rebound performance in the series-clinching victory over Orlando in the conference finals. He will have a more difficult challenge against Artest, a muscular and mercurial forward who has always defended Pierce well. Best known for his role in the 2004 brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Artest is making his first Finals appearance and has already entered Lakers lore after making a game-winning put-back as time expired in Game 5 in the conference finals against Phoenix.

-- Advantage: Celtics

Andrew Bynum vs. Kendrick Perkins

The Lakers' Bynum missed the playoffs two years ago with an injured left knee cap, but he postponed surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee -- which recently was drained -- in order to be available this time against Boston. Bynum has had an uneven postseason, but his presence takes some pressure away from Pau Gasol and forces the Celtics to defend two seven-footers. Perkins has been an invaluable though often overlooked cog for Boston, but his physically bruising style and defensive prowess helped the Celtics avoid double-teaming both Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard this postseason. Perkins's emotions, though, often get the best of him and his next technical foul (he has six) could lead to an automatic one-game suspension.

-- Advantage: Lakers

Kevin Garnett vs. Pau Gasol

Garnett and Perkins manhandled Gasol so much two years ago that the Spaniard was given the unflattering name "Ga-soft." The criticism angered Gasol, forcing the league's most skilled big man to get tougher, and now he is ready to redeem the one postseason blemish in three playoff runs with the Lakers. Still recovering from a right knee injury last season, Garnett hardly resembles the menacing force he was during Boston's championship run in 2008 -- aside from his chest-thumping, intimidating howls and incessant cursing. But he remains a staunch defender, having silenced Antawn Jamison and Rashard Lewis the past two rounds. He also provided flashes of brilliance with a dominant offensive showing against Cleveland, the NBA's regular-season champion.

-- Advantage: Lakers

Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher

In two years, Rondo has gone from a player learning how to win to the player Boston needs to win. Rondo has been a breakout star this postseason, with his unorthodox playing style, non-stop motor and floor leadership helping to extend Boston's championship window. He also provided the hustle highlight of the playoffs when he dived between the legs of Orlando's Jason Williams to track down a loose ball, quickly hopped up and made a layup. Fisher hasn't had any rest this postseason, chasing around Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, Utah's Deron Williams and Phoenix's Steve Nash. Rondo's frenzied freelancing should pose more problems for Fisher, but Fisher's steadying influence and clutch shooting remains an asset for the Lakers.

-- Advantage: Celtics

Volatility vs. Occasional invisibility

Boston has a surly big man (Rasheed Wallace) with a ring who once led the NBA in technical fouls, another forward (Glen Davis) nicknamed "Big Baby" who once cried on the sideline, a wing player (Tony Allen) who once tore up his knee after dunking following a dead ball and a three-time slam dunk champion (Nate Robinson) . Wallace is still battling a bad back and Davis suffered a concussion in the last series. A starter the last time the Lakers faced Boston in the Finals, the versatile Lamar Odom has been the lone consistent reserve for the Lakers.

-- Advantage: Celtics

Doc Rivers vs. Phil Jackson

Jackson is making his 13th NBA Finals appearance and broke a tie last season with Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach with his 10th championship, and fourth with the Lakers. In the final year of his contract, Jackson could leave after this season but might be convinced to stay. Two years after his only championship, Rivers has arguably done the best coaching job of his career. With his aging and ailing roster stumbling toward the end of the regular season, Rivers convinced his team that it had what it took to win another title and led the Celtics to a shorter postseason run than 2008.

-- Advantage: Lakers

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