There was a time when age and experience really counted for something in the NBA playoffs.
It meant your team had played together for a while, that it had “been there before” and, in the case of the San Antonio Spurs, that it had won multiple titles.
Then along came the Memphis Grizzlies to turn good sense upside down.
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Unlike the Spurs, the Grizzlies are a mostly young team — with just one player on the roster older than 30. That would be 32-year old forward Shane Battier. And although Battier is an important piece off the bench, he’s hardly what you would consider a star. A teacher’s aide in a class full of eager young students would be more like it.
On the other hand, the Spurs were a lot of people’s pick to reach the Finals behind leading men such as Tim Duncan (35) and Manu Ginobili (33), and key supporting cast members such as Antonio McDyess (36) and Richard Jefferson (30).
The Spurs had knowledge and cohesiveness, the wills of champions and the rings to prove it.
The same could be said of the Boston Celtics in the East, as we all know about the timelessness of their Big Three of Ray Allen (35), Kevin Garnett (34) and Paul Pierce (33).
Throw in Shaquille O’Neal (39) and Jermaine O’Neal (32), and the Celtics truly resemble a band of basketball relics.
Although the Celtics still have a shot to repeat as Eastern Conference champions, they will have to go through the Miami Heat, who might be the lone team in the entire postseason whose stars are in their primes.
The question for the Heat, of course, is whether LeBron James (26), Chris Bosh (27) and Dwyane Wade (29) have enough talent, depth and cohesion around them to reach the greatest of heights.
But it’s so far, so good for the Heat and Grizzlies, who both hold 1-0 leads in their conference semifinal series after Sunday.
What makes the Grizzlies’ story so intriguing is the fact they have now won the first game of each of their first two playoff series. The first came against those weathered winners in San Antonio, the second against those up-and-coming young bucks in Oklahoma City.
Like the Grizzlies, the Thunder resemble a fun-loving college fraternity, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (both just 22) continuing to display ability, enthusiasm and flair.
Meanwhile, the other Western semifinal pits the Los Angeles Lakers against the Dallas Mavericks. As hard as it may be to believe (and for some of us to admit), these teams are getting up there, too. And did you ever think we would say that about one-time kid wonder Kobe Bryant?
Well, Kobe is 32 and finding it a little bit harder to break away from defenders and free himself for shots these days. Oh, don’t misunderstand — he’s still Kobe and perhaps still the best player in the game. But now he has to work at it a little.
Bryant is supported by Pau Gasol (30), Derek Fisher (36) and quartet of 31-year olds in Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake. And before you mention the fact center Andrew Bynum is only 23, you might want to consider his knees are probably closer to 53.
The good news for the Lakers is the Mavericks are equally dominated by thirty-somethings. Jason Kidd (38) is the only point guard in the postseason older than Fisher, and Dirk Nowitzki (32), Shawn Marion (32) and Jason Terry (33) have plenty of mileage themselves.
As for the other Eastern semifinals between the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks, the main man is point guard Derrick Rose, and he’s only 22 and in his third season — and playing like the best one-man show to wear a Bulls uniform since You Know Who.
Overall, the Bulls and Hawks both consist of either younger players, or players at the peaking stages of their careers (mid to late 20s), but neither team has experience when it comes to going deep into the playoffs.
So what does it all mean?
Well, it‘s hard to say. At least, it is this year. This year, you can’t draw any real conclusions or make many confident predictions. Except, perhaps, for one thing.
Except, perhaps, for the idea that in these NBA playoffs, age really is just a number.