It may not happen in the 2018 NBA Finals. LeBron James is singularly great enough to still propel a team too young and unseasoned for the big lights. But make no mistake, Kyrie Irving’s
Boston Celtics are the next great rival to this Golden State Warriors dynasty. They’ve showed glimpses the last few seasons, with an entirely different cast but on Saturday night, it’s never been more clear. This is setting up to become the place and core of intrigue for the next half decade.

The Warriors have spent this entire season goofing around in the first half, and really, most of entire games against every single opponent. Even against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, they coasted before turning on the jets in late 3rd quarter and early 4th to finish off a close game. In their two losses to the Houston Rockets they struggled early and failed to turn on all the jets in close losses. But against the Boston Celtics, a team they clearly respect, they tried throughout an entire game, only to barely pull away at the end.

A 109-105 final score entailed what was a Brad Stevens/Celtics flow. Even missing the wildness of Marcus Smart, the combinations of Marcus Morris, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, and Aron Baynes looked like the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. They pushed out all backcuts, shoved the Warriors stars while playing smart defense to force shots their scheme preyed on. They double the ball a bunch, forcing the famed Draymond/Steph PNR into a dive pass. But with Horford back, an incredibly smart and long defender protecting the rim against two non-shooters in Iguodala and Green, it forced the Warriors into familiar positions that no longer seemed comfortable.

Draymond finished 4-11, Kevin Durant 7-18, and Klay Thompson 3-12. Part of this can be chalked up to the Warriors stars simply struggling to shoot. In a 7-game series, it’ll take this and a little bit more for an opposing to team to wing a single game, not to mention 4 of them in a week-long span. However, there are small variables with each player that could end up interesting a few years from now. Green, at times, was unable to stay with the likes of Shane Larkin. Be it injury or not, he’s been struggling a bit this season and who is to say a in 2020. He did, however, lock down Kyrie in crunchtime. Klay failed to find much separation and reverted back to a player that struggles mightily during the NBA Finals against defenders that force him to create for his shot. And Durant has seemed a little gun-shy to the basket when he feels like he doesn’t get a call but this is likely an overall fluke.

More scarily, it’s the growth of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the future that might contribute to the Warriors end. Brown abused Andre Iguodala at times to the rack, forcing Iguodala to feebly swipe and foul. Tatum has been awful but is only 19 and having a superb season. Put Gordon Hayward back in and there’s a plethora of defenders from the guards to wings that match up to a Warriors team that started this style of play.

But in the end, the Warriors will always have two MVPs, usually one, and even two more than any other team on the opposing side. On Saturday night, nothing mattered except for Stephen Curry’s heroics. 16-24, 8-13, 1 turnover, and 49 points. There will be times when that is enough. The rhythm, the shimmy, the bounce, and the show was in full effect.

But with that performance came the underlying tension that the next greatest team is coming. It doesn’t look like LeBron is going to perform another miracle. All around the league, the greatest players are falling apart. Kawhi Leonard is unhappy in San Antonio. The Washington Wizards are in shambles. The Houston Rockets don’t feel real until they prove it. The Boston Celtics feel like the truth. An up-and-coming team with an elite coach and a proven high-stakes closer going toe to toe against perhaps the greatest team of all time functioning at its utmost peak.

The world’s finest in Stephen Curry put together a highlight package that lands him in the frontrunner for MVP. But as Steph, Draymond, and KD lined up to shake hands and dap up Kyrie Irving, the writing seemed on the wall. They’re accepting it and the rest of the world will soon enough. It’s Steve Kerr and Brad Stevens. Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving. Kevin Durant and the myriad of franchise wings. Golden State and Boston Celtics. Soon.