MIAMI — With 3:31 left in the first quarter March 10, Chris Andersen missed a 6-foot jumper.
So why is this significant?
Well, it’s the only shot the Miami Heat center has missed all season against Indiana.
Andersen is a staggering 13 of 14 from the field in three games against the Pacers. So now you know another reason why Indiana coach Frank Vogel was up early Thursday morning watching film.
It used to be LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that Heat opponents really had to worry about. Then you could throw in some Ray Allen.
But Andersen has become a guy the Pacers need to make sure is well covered on their scouting report. In Wednesday’s 103-102 Miami overtime win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the tattooed terror shot 7 of 7 for 16 points and had five rebounds and three blocks in 18 minutes off the bench.
“He’s changed their team dramatically,” said Vogel, whose Pacers will try to slow Andersen at least somewhat in Friday’s Game 2 at AmericanAirlines Arena. “Just phenomenal rim protection, great finishing at the basket, toughness, size. All of the things that everybody was critical of this team for the last two years, he’s brought that. I think he’s been a major difference maker.”
Andersen wasn’t on the Heat when the Pacers gave them a battle in an East semifinal last year before falling 4-2. He wasn’t with them when Miami lost 87-77 Jan. 8 at Indiana while being crushed 55-36 on the boards.
The Birdman joined the Heat Jan. 21 and was still getting his flight plan in order when he faced the Pacers for the first time this season Feb. 1. The Heat might have lost 102-89 but Andersen shot 4 of 4 for nine points in 12 minutes. He and Allen, both with zeroes, were the only Miami players that night to not to be on the wrong side of a plus-minus rating.
Andersen had six points in a 105-91 March 10 home win over the Pacers, which is the day he actually missed a shot against them, going 2 of 3. And then came Wednesday.
Sure, the loudest cheer of the night came when James made the game-winning layup at the buzzer. Many of the other top roars came whenever the popular Andersen did something, including when he walked to the scorer’s table to check in 33 seconds into overtime after not starting the extra period.
“Just the intensity and how loud they were,” Andersen said about the crowd. “It was awesome. It was a great feeling. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up. And when you start rolling, it feels good.”
Andersen sure is rolling. He could prove to be the difference in this series.
After the Big Three era began in 2010-11, the Heat had troubles with bigger, physical teams, including the Pacers. That extended into this season.
But Andersen has provided significant help in the post for the Heat. They are an amazing 48-4 since his arrival.
“I think he’s a major, major, major reason for their second-half run,” Vogel said. “A major reason.”
Yes, Vogel used that word as many times as the Heat have lost games since January.
Andersen averaged 4.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.05 blocks in 14.9 minutes during the regular season. He’s been better during the playoffs, averaging 7.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 14.2 minutes while shooting a hard-to-believe 29 of 35.
Andersen might mostly attempt dunks and layups. But 82.9 percent is still an eye-popping figure that is higher than any postseason free-throw percentage on the Heat with the exception of Allen’s 90.3.
On Wednesday, Andersen was at 100 percent. He broke the Miami postseason record for most field goals in a game without a miss, topping the 6 for 6 Alonzo Mourning shot April 29, 2007, against Chicago.
“It’s incredible,” Andersen said of where he is now after being an unsigned free agent the first half of the season. “But I’m just trying to stay in the moment.”
Andersen revealed Thursday that Miami tried to trade for him in March 2012 when he wasn’t playing much for Denver and the Heat really needed a big man. They did end up signing free-agent center Ronny Turiaf, who was nothing special but did have some encouraging minutes when top big man Bosh missed the final five games of last year’s series against Pacers due to an abdominal strain.
The Heat eventually were able to win the championship. But the biggest obstacle of repeating entering this season was their so-so interior game, one that was even weaker after Turiaf had signed with the Clippers.
Enter Andersen, who was waived by the Nuggets last July as part of the NBA’s amnesty rule. It took until midseason for the Heat to sign him because Andersen had arthroscopic knee surgery and he had been investigated in 2012 in Colorado by an agency that handles child-exploitation cases. A lawyer for Andersen has said he was the victim of an extortion attempt by a California female who represented herself as being of legal age.
Andersen has not been charged with any crime, and the Heat were satisfied after conducting extensive research there was no great risk in signing him. But until it happened, how was Andersen spending his time?
“I was hunting hogs and living that country-boy life,” said Andersen, who grew up in tiny Iola, Texas, and spent much the early part of the season in rural Texas and Colorado.
Whatever he was doing, Andersen, 34, is suddenly jumping around like he’s 24.
“Energy, rebounding and being able to finish around the rim better than the guys they had last year,” Indiana center Roy Hibbert said of what the 6-foot-10 Andersen has provided. “He’s done a tremendous job.”
At 7-2, Hibbert is way bigger than anybody on the Heat. But starting center Bosh can take him outside, and Hibbert can’t match Andersen’s energy.
Yet Hibbert seemed most concerned Thursday about Heat forward Shane Battier, who had kneed him in the groin Wednesday during a first-quarter drive to the basket. Hibbert tweeted, “U can knee or kick me every time u drive 2the rim. I’ll be there 2protect the rim. That wasn’t inadvertent. Battier knew what he was doing.”
With Hibbert upset and Andersen energized, there figures to be some intriguing play Friday in the pivot. Hibbert had emphasized earlier Thursday that “our size is our biggest strength.”
But it’s been less of one against Miami since Andersen showed up. After being beaten on the boards by 19 in that first meeting, the Heat have been out-rebounded by a much-less-frightful 6.3 per game in the three games Andersen has been with them.
“He’s big time for our team, his athleticism, his motor,” James said. “He comes out and he gives it his all no matter if it’s 18 minutes, eight minutes or 38 minutes. He gives it his all, and we’re happy to have him.”
You better believe James is. Andersen might play a key role in getting the King fitted this summer for another ring.