- Associated Press - Thursday, April 28, 2011

MIAMI | Long before the playoffs began, even before this season started, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics both suspected the same thing.

A postseason matchup was inevitable.

Sure enough, they were absolutely correct.

“It’s finally here,” Celtics forward Paul Pierce said.

Want drama? This Eastern Conference semifinal series will have it in bunches.

Miami’s Big 3 vs. Boston’s Big 3.

c Dwyane Wade getting a chance to end Boston’s season, after the Celtics knocked the Heat out in 2010’s opening round and sparked last summer’s whirlwind of Miami roster changes.

c LeBron James trying to avoid being eliminated by the Celtics for the third time in four years. Shaquille O’Neal potentially derailing the title hopes of a Heat franchise that he helped carry to the crown in 2006. Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin c Garnett perhaps girding up for one more championship run.

“This is going to be a real series,” Celtics forward Glen Davis said Thursday. “I don’t think no laughing will be going on. … It’s going to be a fight.”

The best-of-seven starts Sunday in Miami.

They danced around the topic for days, neither the Heat nor the Celtics wanting to say they were hoping to face off in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and certainly not saying it before Miami finished off its first-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers.

No need for caution anymore. The matchup the Heat, the Celtics and probably most of the NBA wanted is going to happen.

“I think we always felt it would happen at some point,” James said. “We didn’t know if it was going to be first round, second round, Eastern Conference finals. But we always felt that at some point we would have to go through Boston and play Boston to get where we want to get. So it’s here now.”

Celtics coach Doc Rivers echoed those sentiments.

“We assumed, when they put this team together, at some point that if we wanted to put another banner up that we were probably going to have to go through them,” Rivers said.

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