Basketball / Sports

Andersen sparks Heat in return, looks forward to Finals

MIAMI -- Chris Andersen felt he had already gotten plenty of rest during the Eastern Conference finals.

After missing both Games 4 and 5 against Indiana while dealing with soreness and mobility issues because of a thigh bruise, Andersen returned to the Miami Heat lineup in time for Friday's 117-92 series-clinching win over the Pacers.

His entrance into the game was met with plenty of cheers from fans and Andersen made a near-instant impact, pulling down the first of his team-high 10 rebounds 11 seconds after taking the court.

Another rebound quickly followed and by the end of the first quarter, Andersen had helped the Heat erase an early 9-2 deficit and take a 24-13 lead. The Pacers wouldn't threaten again, and the Heat controlled the rest of the night en route to the blowout win that sent them back to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight year.

But Friday night, Andersen did more than pull down timely rebounds.

When Pacers guard Lance Stephenson and LeBron James exchanged words after more of Stephenson's on-court taunting, Andersen was in the middle of things to keep the situation from escalating. His defensive effort and 9 points took a toll on Indiana. Still, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra felt his center needed a break late. So he pulled the imposing, colorful 6-foot-10, 245-pound Andersen in the fourth quarter and a few words were exchanged.

"I was riding the bike, trying to get the full range of motion back in my leg. I wanted to keep on playing, but that's just my competitive spirit," said Andersen, who admitted he felt some discomfort throughout Friday's game. He was injured in May 24's Game 3, when he collided with Dwyane Wade while chasing down a rebound,

Added Spoelstra: "He was pretty angry with me in the fourth quarter for taking him out, telling me I'm holding him back. He was fantastic. He was bottled up, intensity, energy, anger, all of it. He did not want to sit out these last few days. ... The intensity, the energy, the multiple efforts, that's who he is. It becomes contagious and when you have somebody that's felt so bottled up that he wanted to be out there the last few days helping his teammates but he physically wasn't able to do it, when he finally got his opportunity, it was an explosion."

Andersen's intensity has been a boon for the Heat, who initially signed him to a 10-day contract back in January 2013. He's been with Miami since, coming off the bench in 42 games last year and averaging 6.6 points and 5.3 rebounds this season.

His energy has made him a fan favorite, and after Friday's win, James credited Andersen with being part of the Heat's first-quarter turnaround.

"We just locked in and got a good groove. I think it started with Bird coming into the game," the four-time league MVP said. "His rebounding, his effort that he gave us when he came into the game gave us six defensive rebounds, gave us three buckets from drives from Norris (Cole) and guys, and his dunk and his lay-up. I think that's what picked us up."

For Andersen, now the challenge is continuing to get treatment and taking advantage of the layoff while the Heat await the NBA Finals, which begin Thursday.

It's a challenge because he has no interest in continuing to rest. Andersen feels he's had enough. Now it's time to help the Heat try to win a third straight championship.

"Sitting back and watching is never fun for anybody, especially when you're injured. ... I had a couple of days of rest already, so I'm going to get back at it (Saturday). Get focused (for) this big series we have ahead of us right now," Andersen said. "I'm not taking any days off."

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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