Ah, youth. We crave it. We mock it. We commercialize it. We waste it. In basketball and professional sports as a whole, youth can bring an intriguing double-edged sword to the proceedings. Take the 2011 NBA Playoffs series that wrapped up yesterday, Tuesday, with the first seed Chicago Bulls "finally" putting away the Indiana Pacers three games to one.
I put the word "finally" in quotes because, according to some, the higher ranked Bulls should have swept the series without question and won every game by 20 points. Instead, the Pacers drove the first three games down to the wire and even held off the Bulls in Game Four for a victory. Last night? Not so much -- the Bulls controlled the game virtually from start to finish, meeting Indiana's distinctly physical challenge head on and simply outshooting and outdefending the opposition.
Yet the Pacers are still a prime example of the power of youth. And make no mistake, the Pacers are a young team -- of the 10 players who led the team in minutes played this season, eight of them are under 30. And seven of them are 25 or younger.
On the good side, a young team brings vigor, resiliency and, most important of all, the capacity to far exceed expectations. We saw all this in Round One of the playoffs this year. The Indiana coaching staff gave them their marching orders -- play fast, play hard and hack away at anyone who goes to the hoop (especially Derrick Rose) -- and these young foot soldiers did as they were told.
For the first two games, Indiana was able to absorb the noise and vibe of the United Center and spit it back in the Bulls' faces. They were able to drive up the tempo even further at Conseco Fieldhouse, despite the fact that their home crowd was watered down considerably by Chicago faithful.
But, in Game Five, their energy turned bad, leading to tantrums, technicals, ejections and ridiculous post-game rants courtesy of Pacers forward Danny Granger. It would seem the cooler headed Bulls, coached by the devotedly "stay on focus" Tom Thiboadeau, finally got the green light they needed, striking back forcefully and at will -- with center Joakim Noah leading the charge. And when the hacks started to come back, youthful tempers prevailed and, unfortunately for the Pacers, their players undid much of the good that the team accomplished in the first four games.
Had Indiana held itself together, they'd have gone into the off-season in a much better light. They'd be a team to watch, a sleeper in Eastern Conference. And, to a certain extent, they still are. But this series has also left them looking like a Detroit Pistons light, a team that's going to resort flying fists to gain a competitive edge but, unlike that Detroit team of yore, one that will also whine and moan if met with its own hack-happy tactics.
That's the downside of youth. The unpredictability that can allow a team like the Pacers to match up better than expected with the NBA's best can also lead to embarrassment -- both on the court (hi, Josh McRoberts!) and off. We'll have to wait until next season to see whether this young Indiana team learned from their mistakes. In the meantime, the Bulls move on.