POINT GUARD: Derek Fisher vs. Rajon Rondo
Although his place in the star-studded Celtics starting lineup was one of the most widely discussed issues during this year's pre-season, Rondo has quietly-and somewhat surprisingly-stepped up all season long. Known as a defensive player, the second-year guard out of Kentucky averaged 11 points during the regular season to go along with five rebounds. In the playoffs, he's actually upped his assist numbers to seven per game, earning the confidence of Head Coach Doc Rivers despite his lack of post-season experience. For the Lakers, Derek Fisher brings everything Rondo doesn't-a stable outside shot, a wealth of playoff experience and a proven ability to step up in the clutch. In the NBA Finals, the intangibles Fisher brings will likely prove themselves an invaluable asset for L.A.
SHOOTING GUARD: Kobe Bryant vs. Ray Allen
Although the two stars say they have patched things up following some unsavory comments by Allen about Bryant a few years ago, there's no doubting that their matchup still has plenty of emotional juice behind it. Allen has struggled this post-season, averaging just 14 points on an uncharacteristic 40% shooting from the field. By comparison, Kobe is in the midst of another spectacular playoff run, averaging 29 points while proving that his MVP selection was the correct one. With the Lakers' own "Big Three" clicking in unison, Allen needs to perform well for the Celtics to save face.
CENTER: Pau Gasol vs. Kendrick Perkins
Perkins burned the Lakers in their two meetings this season, scoring 21 points and pulling nine rebounds in the Celtic's November victory. During Boston's current post-season run, the fifth-year center is averaging seven points and seven rebounds to match his totals during the regular season. Gasol obviously has a huge advantage on offense that the Lakers will need him to fully exploit. After a somewhat lackluster series against the Spurs that saw the Spaniard tally just 13 points per game, Pau should have a much easier time navigating his way in the lane with Tim Duncan no longer in his path. Nonetheless, the Lakers still need to pay attention to Perkins, as he is more than capable of duplicating the 18-point, 16-rebound effort he had against Detroit in Game 5.
POWER FORWARD: Lamar Odom vs. Kevin Garnett
Two of the lankiest stars in the league face off against one another in what may wind up being the most important matchup of the series. KG's been on top of his game the entire post-season, averaging a team-high 21 points and 10 rebounds, while shooting 52% from the floor. Odom has had an up-and-down playoffs so far, but has come through in critical moments with clutch makes and big-time stops on the defensive end. While Garnett certainly has the edge on offense, Lamar is an underrated defender whose long arms should slow KG down at least a little.
SMALL FORWARD: Vladimir Radmanovic vs. Paul Pierce
While Paul Pierce wouldn't be in the finals without the help of newcomers Garnett and Allen, he remains the heart and soul of the current Celtics squad. For the playoffs, Pierce is averaging 19 points and five rebounds, while coming through with big shots in Boston's pivotal Game 7 Conference Semifinals victory over the Cavaliers. Known primarily for his outside shooting, Radmanovic showed flashes of offensive diversity against the Spurs, driving to the hoop more instead of just relying on his three-point game. While L.A. can't expect Vladi to match Pierce, they'll need him to at least repeat his Conference Finals performance for them to stay competitive at the three spot.
BENCH: Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf vs. James Posey, Sam Cassell, Leon Powe, P.J. Brown
There's no disputing that the Lakers' bench is the deeper, more balanced one in this series. However, the Celtics' bench is definitely more battle-tested with Posey, Cassell and Brown all having considerable playoff experience. In the Lakers' four games to one defeat of the Spurs, Farmar and Vujacic were huge X-factors as the first reserves off the bench for L.A.-a trend the pair needs to continue in the Finals. Although L.A.'s reserves may not have have the moxie of the Celtic's bench just yet, as noted by Derek Fisher last week, they're doing a great job of learning on the fly.