Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have known the end was coming ever since that first press conference back in the summer of 2007 when they held up their jerseys.
That was the whole point, anyway. Assemble a team with three veteran superstars, all of whom were past their prime and more determined to win than anything. All went as planned in year one, which ended in the Boston Celtics' 17th championship. They almost won another title two years later, falling just one quarter short.
Now, in their fifth season together, and very likely their last, the goal of winning is still the same.
"We've realized that since the day we came in [this] preseason, training camp," Pierce said at Thursday's media session in Philadelphia. "I think pretty much the last couple years we've been feeling like that, but the influence is we're trying to win another championship, regardless if this is going to be our last time together and not knowing what the future is going to hold for all of."
"The focus right now is the playoffs," echoed Garnett. "I haven't really given [the future] much thought, to be honest. We're definitely aware of it. ... At this point right now, it's the playoffs."
So far, the dream is still in good shape. Boston is in prime position to compete for that coveted title, bouncing the Atlanta Hawks in six games in their opening round series and taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Should the Celtics emerge the victors in the series against Philadelphia, as most expect they will, the road doesn't get any easier. In some ways, the Celts have had it easy with their first two playoff opponents. Atlanta and Philadelphia, while solid teams in their own right, cannot compare to remaining contenders like the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder.
The odds aren't in their favor. Heck, nobody gave them a chance to win before the season. Actually, few people really gave them much of chance after their first title run. But that's not what Boston Celtics basketball is about. It's about continuing to fight, no matter what anyone says.
Can they really do it, though? It's one thing to beat the Hawks and Sixers ... but beating the Heat, Thunder or Spurs? That's a tall order, as all three have beaten the Celtics at points this season, with the exception of Miami, which Boston beat three out of four times. But that wasn't in a playoff environment, and regular season games mean nothing now.
The answer: well, why not? Sure, the Celtics would enter their next two series as underdogs, but by that point, all it takes is eight wins. With all systems firing, the Celtics are dangerous. And yes, they can beat anybody. Still don't believe? That's alright, because they live to prove you wrong.