Old Cavaliers vs. young Celtics a battle for the ages

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Neither the Cavaliers nor the Celtics were satisfied with the 2017 Eastern Conference finals.

Cleveland doesn’t want to just beat Boston but not be able to hang with the Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Celtics don’t want to try in vain to topple LeBron James.

So, both teams set out to change.

The Cavs traded star point guard Kyrie Irving, wound up with a messy locker room then made sweeping changes just before the trade deadline. In all the chaos, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is relying on his most-experienced players in the playoffs. Beyond, Cleveland is pinning its long-term hopes on the acquired-in-Irving-trade Nets’ first-round pick, which obviously isn’t contributing this postseason.

Boston acquired the stars it could, Gordon Hayward and Irving, without sacrificing its young core. When those stars got hurt, the Celtics gave greater responsibility to the young players – namely Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. Improbably, Boston won a couple playoff series.

So, the Cavaliers and Celtics meet again in the Eastern Conference finals – just with many new faces. Two-thirds of the players who played in last year’s series are no longer with the same team.

Amid the turnover, both teams have codified their position. The Cavaliers, trying to win now, are the oldest team in the postseason. The Celtics, with an eye toward the future, are the youngest.

This is the 14th time the oldest and youngest teams in the postseason have met in a series. The older team has gone 12-1.

Here’s each of those series with the teams’ average age* in parentheses:

  • Cleveland Cavaliers (30.4) vs. Boston Celtics (24.8) in 2018 conference finals
  • Dallas Mavericks (31.6) beat Oklahoma City Thunder (23.8) in 2011 conference finals, 4-1
  • Indiana Pacers (31.2) beat Philadelphia 76ers (25.9) in 1999 conference semifinals, 4-0
  • Utah Jazz (29.5) beat Denver Nuggets (24.8) in 1994 conference semifinals, 4-3
  • Boston Celtics (29.5) beat Chicago Bulls (25.4) in 1987 first round, 3-0
  • Boston Celtics (29.3) beat Atlanta Hawks (25.1) in 1986 conference semifinals, 4-1
  • Washington Bullets (28.8) beat Atlanta Hawks (24.9) in 1979 conference semifinals, 4-3
  • Los Angeles Lakers (29.4) beat Milwaukee Bucks (25.9) in 1972 conference finals, 4-2
  • Boston Celtics (29.8) beat New York Knicks (24.6) in 1967 division semifinals, 3-1
  • Boston Celtics (28.7) beat Cincinnati Royals (26.5) in 1966 division semifinals, 3-2
  • Boston Celtics (28.7) beat Los Angeles Lakers (25.7) in 1965 NBA Finals, 4-1
  • Boston Celtics (28.4) beat San Francisco Warriors (25.5) in 1964 NBA Finals, 4-1
  • Minneapolis Lakers (25.9) beat Detroit Pistons (27.5) in 1959 division semifinals, 2-1
  • St. Louis Hawks (27.7) beat Minneapolis Lakers (25.4) in 1957 division finals, 3-0

*Weighted by minutes played in the postseason, holding each player’s age constant as of Feb. 1 of that season

The Cavaliers’ and Celtics’ exact average ages will fluctuate as they finish their playoff runs. But Cleveland is much older and Boston is much younger than any other remaining teams. The Cavs and Celtics are pretty locked into their spots.

If the 5.6-year average-age gap holds, it’d be the 10th-largest ever between teams meeting in a playoff series. Here’s every series featuring an average-age gap above five years:

  • Dallas Mavericks (31.6) beat Oklahoma City Thunder (23.8) in 2011 conference finals, 4-1
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (25.7) beat Dallas Mavericks (32.6) in 2012 first round, 4-0
  • Houston Rockets (32.7) beat Minnesota Timberwolves (25.9) in 1997 first round, 3-0
  • Dallas Mavericks (26.1) beat Utah Jazz (32.6) in 2001 first round, 3-2
  • Los Angeles Lakers (29.0) beat Oklahoma City Thunder (22.9) in 2010 first round, 4-2
  • Indiana Pacers (30.0) beat Cleveland Cavaliers (23.9) in 1998 first round, 3-1
  • Los Angeles Lakers (25.9) beat Seattle SuperSonics (31.6) in 1998 conference semifinals, 4-1
  • Boston Celtics (30.7) beat New York Knicks (25.1) in 1988 first round, 3-1
  • Miami Heat (31.1) beat Charlotte Hornets (25.5) in 2014 first round, 4-0
  • Cleveland Cavaliers (30.4) vs. Boston Celtics (24.8) in 2018 conference finals
  • Miami Heat (29.4) beat Chicago Bulls (23.9) in 2006 first round, 4-2
  • Brooklyn Nets (30.7) beat Toronto Raptors (25.2) in 2014 first round, 4-3
  • Boston Celtics (30.1) beat Philadelphia 76ers (24.7) in 2012 conference semifinals, 4-3
  • Indiana Pacers (31.2) beat Philadelphia 76ers (25.9) in 1999 conference semifinals, 4-0
  • Boston Celtics (29.8) beat New York Knicks (24.6) in 1967 division semifinals, 3-1
  • Chicago Bulls (30.8) beat Washington Bullets (25.7) in 1997 first round, 3-0
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (25.6) beat San Antonio Spurs (30.7) in 2016 conference semifinals, 4-2
  • Boston Celtics (28.9) beat Atlanta Hawks (23.8) in 2008 first round, 4-3

In those 17 series, the older team has gone 13-4.

It’s not as simple as experience winning out. Teams let themselves get old when they’re ready to win. They care more about a player’s current ability than his future potential.

That’s why the Cavs have traded for players like Kyle Korver (37) and George Hill (32) the last couple years. Cleveland wants to win now with LeBron.

The Celtics aren’t ready to accept that tradeoff. They want to win as much as they can while retaining long-term upside.

Eventually, LeBron’s dominance over the Eastern Conference will end. But the Cavaliers are committed to continuing it this year. The Celtics are more concerned with having next.

That shows in the teams ages, and it will probably show in the series.