NBA Playoffs 2011: The Torch Has Just Been Passed from One Era to the Next
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You know what they say: Out with the old, in with the new.
And in the new NBA, no other saying is as applicable as that one.
These playoffs have been among the most entertaining in recent memory for a few reasons. The new NBA is all about the “super teams,” defense has made a resurgence (only two teams, Memphis and Oklahoma City, are averaging over 100 points per game) and the super powers of the NBA have fallen.
In the first round, the ancient San Antonio Spurs were outrun, out-muscled and just outplayed by the much younger Memphis Grizzlies team.
The Spurs lost the series 4-2, by an average of 97.5-94.3 and Zach Randolph, a player in his prime, did much damage on old man Tim Duncan. Z-Bo went off for 21.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game; he carried the Grizzlies through the first round of the playoffs for their first franchise playoff series win.
San Antonio's “medium-sized” three of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker may have won the most games in the regular season for the Western Conference, but at the end of the first round, they just turned out to be too old and were the fourth No. 1 seed to fall to a No. 8 seed in NBA history.
In the second round, possibly even a bigger upset took place, as the Dallas Mavericks took down the back-to-back NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Kobe Bryant was long the NBA's MVP, but he's grown older, lost a step, and he's no longer able to carry the Lakers through playoff series. Moreover, Pau Gasol was not nearly as impressive as LA needed, he seems to be on the decline, as does Ron Artest.
Dallas is an older team too, but Dirk Nowitzki is still at the tail end of his prime, and he knows how to use his size and length to make it impossible for opponents to guard him. Jason Kidd was flat-out fantastic in guarding the taller, more athletic and slightly younger Kobe in the series, and Jason Terry was en fuego from downtown.
The Mavericks proved they are the team to beat in the West now, they're a complete squad and they swept the Lakers 4-0. It was the only time legendary coach Phil Jackson was swept in a playoff series, and the Lakers went out in a classless manner as Andrew Bynum threw an aggressive elbow into J.J. Barea mid-air during the blowout of the final game.
Dallas stomped LA by an average of 102.25-88.25, the end of the Lakers' most recent dynasty is upon us.
On Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics and their “big three” fell to “Miami Thrice” 4-1 in yet another example of the older, more experienced but less athletically able team fall to their younger antithesis.
Following their second-round series victory over the Celtics, LeBron James admitted that it was because of “the blueprint they (Boston) laid down in 2008” that he ultimately decided to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach to chase their own title dreams, much as Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce did only a few years ago.
Miami beat Boston by an average of 95.4-91, they actually outplayed one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, and the Heat were thrown together in only a year while the Celtics have grown into a championship pedigree team over seasons.
Between those three teams, the Spurs (four), Celtics (one) and Lakers (five) have accounted for 10-12 NBA Title victories from 1999-2010, and the three teams were in the Finals 13 times during that period.
But those dynasties, filled with players drafted in the mid-90s, are done.
The changing of the guard, from the old-school to the new-wave of talent, is upon us NBA fans.
The Lakers and Spurs are done in the West, one of the two youngest teams in the league (Memphis and Oklahoma City) will make the Western Conference Finals this year.
The Grizzlies are led by youngsters O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, while the Thunder boast young stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Nowhere can the passing of the torch be seen more clearly than in the Eastern Conference, where the Heat and (likely) the Bulls will fight one another for a shot at the Finals.
Miami's Wade, James and Bosh are all 29 years old or younger, while the Bull's star point guard Derrick Rose was the youngest MVP ever at 22, and his growing center Joakim Noah is a mere 26 years old.
And beyond the best players and teams in the game, some of the most celebrated and storied NBA coaches have stepped down in 2011 as well.
Jerry Sloan, who coached the Utah Jazz for 23 years (longer than Rose has been alive), stepped down from his position in February saying simply, "I had a feeling this time was the time to move on."
Sloan was one of the most accomplished coaches in NBA history, he was one of seven to eclipse the 1,000-win mark, and he left a mark on the league that left much more impact than from just a win-loss perspective.
Phil Jackson said of the retirement, “We're losing a big figure from our game, a guy that's really kept his team afloat for many years playing hard. He has a system. He wants to play ball the right way and he usually says it that way too.”
Like Sloan, Jackson is stepping away from the game at the same time the power has shifted from the older men to the younger.
Phil Jackson, with his NBA record 11 titles, is arguably the greatest coach in the history of the Association, and he's also stepping down to allow the younger coaches to come into power.
The game is decisively younger in style (flopping) and athletically, and newer strategies are proving to work.
The older coaches are moving aside for their younger contemporaries with humility but will the more experienced players do the same and move over without much protest?
Likely no, but the inevitable downfall of every player is time, age, mileage and wear put on their most massive bodies, and the new generation is here (for at least the next five-seven years).
Wake up world, the NBA is a young man's league, and the power has shifted in their favor, even if the power shift from last decade to the current one just happened in little over a week's time.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being the CSU Rams Examiner, Kurtzman is a Denver Nuggets and NBA Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com, the Colorado/Utah Regional Correspondent for stadiumjourney.com, a weekly contributor to milehighhoops.com, a contributor to milehighreport.com writing on the Denver Broncos and a contributor to Blake Street Bulletin, part of ESPN's SweetSpot Blog Network.
Rich also manages K-Biz and Beezy, a Colorado-based rap group.
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