Only Game 1 of these NBA Finals has unfolded the way many of us expected the series would — with two teams leveraging their very different strengths in a tight battle of possession-by-possession tradeoffs. Miami’s ultra-aggressive defense, with traps and very early rotations at the rim, would bottle up and confuse San Antonio’s pinpoint passing attack on some possessions. And on others, the Spurs would skip the ball around the court ahead of those rotations, netting themselves open corner 3-pointers or Tony Parker rim runs. With two teams that are so damn good, neither could hope to win these battles in a landslide; whoever won them 55 percent of the time would win each game, and a legacy-changing title.
But only Game 1 has really played out that way. In Game 2, the Spurs took advantage of puzzling Miami breakdowns and appeared ready to steal another road game until we all blacked out and the Heat went up 30. In Game 3, the inexcusable Miami breakdowns continued, and the brilliant Spurs offense sliced up the Heat as a bewildered LeBron James and a sad Dwyane Wade tossed up bricks against San Antonio’s pack-the-paint defense.
And then, Game 4. Holy hell, Game 4. The Heat, save for some early hiccups, played perhaps their cleanest defensive game of the postseason, considering the stakes, location, and opponent. They corralled Parker up top on pick-and-rolls without scrambling themselves out of position, and their rotations along the back line were terrifying both in their ferocity and their precise timing.
We here at Grantland love doing power rankings, and I especially love comic strips. Thus, inspired by this "Dilbert" comic, I present the first-ever Grantland edition of NBA Playoffs Hair Power Rankings (NPHPR for short).
The title is pretty self-explanatory. Opinions may vary; scoring is arbitrary. My friend pulled my arm to get the remote out of my hand earlier so now my head hurts and I'm not thinking clearly. My dog also ate the previous draft of this because he was displeased with my Sager-esque, green paisley blouse. Feel free to yell at me in the comments about any obvious oversights.
Without further ado …
Honorable Mention: Zach Randolph
Z-Bo would've made this list for real except for the fact that I would be giving him 37/20 points based on the headband alone (-5 for the very average hair). There's a reason it's referred to as a headband. It does not relate to hair. Sorry, Z-Bo, maybe next time. After all, it took LeBron only nine years to win something huge, and he has a headband, too. (That is also one of the reasons Z-Bo gets the Honorable Mention nod and not LeBron; sometimes we just have to learn to share the wealth.) Good things are coming your way, though, Mr. Randolph — I can feel it. Just not today. Total: -5/20
Here’s a sobering thought: The Spurs are 8-2, with the fifth-best point differential in the league, and they are basically screwing around.
OK, that’s an exaggeration. Gregg Popovich rarely screws around, even though it’s delightful when he does. But the Spurs are clearly experimenting, with an eye on reinventing themselves on both ends of the floor by the time the playoffs come around. It seems strange to redesign a team that went 31-2 in the 33 games before the Thunder rallied for four straight wins in the conference finals, but the redesign is happening, and it’s Popovich’s way of recognizing that the team got as far as it could with its pick-and-roll-all-the-time offense and just-above-average defense. The Spurs ran into a more athletic team that did enough defensively to at least limit San Antonio’s pick-and-roll devastation, and they found they didn’t have enough on either end to compensate. The Thunder are still there, the Lakers are a powerhouse-in-waiting, and the Heat should be monstrous in the spring.