Chris Andersen, the illustrated man

"My game? My game is defense. And I think about what my coach told me a long time ago in high school, 'Defense wins championships.' My work ethic is just constant. I gotta be in the gym. I gotta be in the weight room. I feel like if I don't lift, if I don't run, I get soft. So I just continue to keep pushing myself, keep my strength up. I gotta keep my motor going. As soon as I feel comfortable, things just don't go right."

That game is all acute angles and foot stomp and manic work rate and disruption. He trails chaos everywhere he goes. On defense, at the rim, he's the best on the Heat by a wide margin. Thirteenth best in the NBA.

Illustrative of the Birdman game -- which combines maximum effort and basketball intelligence with the theft of all your livestock and a salting of the earth -- is the biggest game of the year so far, Game 2 against Indiana on Tuesday night, pivotal, momentum and inevitability draining out of the Heat's season, from their march to another championship, and he saves them all. He comes off the bench for 29 minutes and plays exactly as his teammates know he will, all defensive energy and mania and long-armed chaos. Twelve rebounds, three points, one block. He disrupts. He upsets. He flies. He's an impossible plus-25 when he walks up the tunnel.

In fact, his signature play idealized would probably start with a blocked shot on the defensive end that he guides up the wing to a waiting LeBron James, who turns and puts the ball on the floor and heads to the middle to drive the lane, where he finds a pick set by Andersen, now at the top of the arc, creating space for LeBron to go hard for the rim, which he does, banking the ball off the glass a little too high so that it comes up off the iron just enough for a trailing Andersen to grab it with both hands and jam it down hard through the net and then hang from the rim for a second, nothing flashy, with his knees drawn up to his chest. His game looks like something out of Beowulf.

"His game on the floor is high energy," Shane Battier says. "He brings a level of intensity and energy. Whenever he comes into the game, the game picks up -- because one thing the Birdman does is fly around. He makes his presence felt. He's a grinder. He's been a grinder all his life. He's never been highly recruited, he's never been highly touted. He's just a guy who figured it out. He has an amazing motor and he knows that's the best way he can impact games. That's an underrated skill in this league."

Shoulders and elbows and hard screens and stop-and-go, his game may not be beautiful, but his real plus-minus was 15th in the league this season.

Of Miami's Big Three, Dwyane Wade is the longest serving, and to many locals remains the elegant face of the franchise. "Birdman? Energy," Wade said. "He brings that to the game; he's the guy who protects the basket for us. On the offensive end he does an unbelievable job of getting us the ball. He's the reason we're successful."

Andersen himself is more circumspect. "I try to do a lot," he says. "And a lot of stuff doesn't show up on the stats sheet. I want to block shots, contest shots, alter shots, create opportunities to rebound, push the ball."

But a lot of stuff does show up on the stats sheet. In fact, Andersen averages 12.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes. The only player who can match those numbers this season is the NBA's next superstar, Anthony Davis.

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