Now, finally, we get what we deserve: an NBA Finals showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers that can cement their rivalry as the greatest of all time.

Not just because both teams have rampaged through their respective conferences, but that's certainly true. Not solely because a third consecutive Finals matchup eclipses that frenzied frequency that marked the Celtics-Lakers duel, back when Bird and Magic redefined basketball rivalry but never met three times in a row.

Not even because this rubber match -- after the Warriors' win in 2015 and the stunning Cavaliers comeback in 2016 -- might be the start of four or five or six of these grudge matches.

With the Cavaliers' 135-102 thumping of the Celtics on Thursday night to punch their ticket to the series that actually matters, Cavs-Warriors now awaits. And it could rise to the level of one of sports' most compelling rivalries, ever, because two starkly difficult and stunningly in-reach goals ride on the outcome: For LeBron James, the possibility of passing Michael Jordan to become the greatest player in NBA history; or for Stephen Curry and the  Warriors, clinching their status as the best team in NBA history.

Hate it or love it, both are in reach.

And each likely hinges on whether it's Cavs or Warriors who win their way to the mark of 2017 NBA champions.

Let's start with James. After his 35-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist, three-steal night -- seriously, can we stop taking this guy for granted? -- his Jordan deficit has narrowed significantly.

The Warriors won 73 games last season and then added Kevin Durant. They have set a record for wins over both a three-year and two-year stretch. They have the league's best offensive rating and its second-best defensive rating. On and on it goes. They are stacked, confident and utterly in control of nearly every moment on the floor.

Beating them becomes its own significant line on any GOAT résumé. Throw in the fact James has never lost a first-round playoff series (Jordan lost three), that despite the excellence of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (Scottie Pippen finished third in the MVP voting the year Jordan played baseball, and led the Bulls to 55 victories -- four more than this season's Cavs), and an utter level of greatness that continues to amaze, James has a real chance to close that gap.

Oh, and now he is the all-time scoring leader in the postseason.

This is also true for the Warriors, a shot at history with a historically worthy and dangerous opponent in the way. To beat LeBron James at the peak of his skills (he had career highs this season in rebounds and assists per game, and his past two Finals performances are the stuff of legend) would notch Golden State's place in the conversation as the best team, ever.

They very well might have three of the best 15 shooters in NBA history. Curry is, well, Curry. Klay Thompson once scored 37 points in a quarter, and is 11th all-time in 3-point shooting percentage. And Durant is only one of a handful of players to have notched a 90-50-40 season and average more than 20 points.

They have Draymond Green, a two-way player and Defensive Player of the Year dynamo who's also shooting nearly 50 percent in this postseason on 3s. They have Andre Iguodala, who has a Finals MVP to his name. They have that No. 1 offense, they have that No. 2 defense, they have -- hell, they have it all.

These teams also happen to loathe each other. Believe it. Ignore James' garbage there's-no-rivalry talk. James burns at Curry, and the Warriors, cutting into his rightful due. The Warriors know the 3-1 collapse James perpetrated on them last year can only be avenged in this Finals.

The playoffs have been lackluster in part because it has been an inevitable prelude to the only series that matters. But that series -- Warriors-Cavs, starting in a week -- will be one of the most exciting and important Finals we've ever seen.