He was up there in the bright lights now. He was up there at the TNT table – the one with Charles and Kenny and Ernie and Shaq – talking basketball.
He was up there tucked into a niche of AmericanAirlines Arena talking about himself while down on the court a group of straggler fans walked around and around the center circle flapping their arms and singing his nickname.
Chris Andersen – the Heat’s unlikely reserve motor – descended the steps from the makeshift television studio as Wednesday night tumbled into Thursday morning, walked across the floor and slapped hands with celebrants who had just watched him contribute mightily to Miami’s 103-102 overtime victory against Indiana in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals.
In a contest as wild as his spiked Mohawk hairstyle and many colorful tattoos, Andersen had been an off-the-bench catalyst yet again.
Andersen, an in-season signee from the league’s discard pile, had scored 16 points, grabbed five rebounds, blocked three shots and come up with a steal. He had made all seven of his field-goal attempts and both of his free throws. The free throws were of overtime variety.
The play-by-play sheet told the story.
Andersen had scored from the field on a lay-up, a dunk, a dunk, a lay-up, a dunk, a tip-in and a finger roll with three of the baskets coming off assists by LeBron James.
And Andersen had done all of it in only 18-plus minutes of playing time.
“I didn’t know I was being so efficient,” Andersen said at his cubicle in the Heat locker room after the game.
He’s 29-of-35 from the floor in the playoffs.
“Just doing what I’m supposed to do,” he said.
Andersen has been a remarkable complement to the Heat core – James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – with his work at power forward and center. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest he has been something of a transformational presence as new-found support in the Big 3’s third year together.
“I think he was a pleasant surprise,” Wade said. “We knew what he brought in Denver (with the Nuggets), but we didn’t know how he would fit in with our team. We knew he was going to bring some energy. We knew he was going to bring his effort every night.
“He came right in and fit like he’s been here the whole three years. He’s been big for our success. He’s going to make an impact on the ball game. That’s what we need out of that position.”
James, who had a triple-double with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, seconded Wade’s notion, and got more specific regarding the win against the Pacers.
“The contribution we got from ‘Bird’ was unbelievable,” James said. “Without his effort, we don’t win.”
That’s probably true.
James, who hit the game-winning shot with a driving lay-up at the overtime buzzer, was the undisputed star of the show. Wade (19 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals) and Bosh (17 points) played their parts well.
But a case can be made that Andersen, in approximately half the playing time, was at least as important to the Heat in Game 1 as were Bosh and Wade.
“He’s big, fast and runs the floor,” Bosh said.
He plays aggressive defense, too, and provides Miami with an antagonistic spirit.
“It’s so much fun,” Andersen said. “I’m having a great time.”
He was in his glory Wednesday night in setting a franchise playoff record for field goals without a miss.
And so there he was in the glow of victory talking to Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Ernie Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal about having come to Miami hoping to matter … hoping to make a difference.
Smith teased him about being subdued and reserved in stark contrast to his appearance.
Andersen laughed right along with everybody on the set, provided some analysis of his own while game film rolled and even performed an interlocking-hands version of a bird’s wings in flight.
He’s soaring these days, and moments later was in the locker room talking about how “amazed” he is about all things Heat and his part in the party.
Surely, the echoes of “Birdman! Birdman!” still rang clearly in his head.