NBA Playoffs 2011: How Has Joel Anthony Become the Heat's Defensive Stopper?

John FrielAnalyst IMay 5, 2011

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 16:  Forward Joel Anthony #50 of the  Miami Heat defends Forward Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers at the American Airlines Arena in game one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Liscence agreement.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

Coming into the postseason, there were only a handful of NBA fans that knew who exactly Joel Anthony was.

You either were an irritated Miami Heat fan that was tired of seeing Anthony fumbling passes or you saw him do this. Joel wasn't expected to possess any offensive prowess, but you still want to expect a player of Anthony's height (6'9") and athleticism to be able to finish off shots around the basket.

Even with work from the Heat assistant coaches and the constant guidance from his teammates, Joel just didn't have the hands to catch and finish. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would attract the double-teams and they'd find Anthony down low, but he'd either pass up the shot or make it a lot more difficult that it should have been.

That five-year, $18 million contract that the Heat gave Anthony over the summer's offseason was appearing to be an even bigger mistake than the $30 million that Miami was giving Mike Miller.

The problem with Anthony's contract is that he is not only not living up to it, but there would be no sane NBA team that would want to take the deal of a player who was a good shot-blocker and not much else.

He was a liability more than anything else. The defense he provided was a nice complement to the offensive fire power that the big three held, but it hurt the flow of the offense as defenders played off of him to double-team a member of the big three. He was a non-threat on the offensive end and it only canceled out the effort he was giving on the defensive end.

Yet two games into the 2011 postseason and Joel Anthony is being heralded as one of the league's top defenders and is receiving MVP chants every time he steps to the foul line.

Joel Anthony has played 30-plus minutes in the past four games, has the highest +/- in the playoffs, and has the Heat two games away from making their first Conference Finals in five years.

What happened?

What happened was that the Heat are taking on the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, two teams without a center to worry about. The Sixers' Spencer Hawes and the Celtics' Jermaine O'Neal were basically considered non-threats and it allowed the Heat to run a small, defensive-minded lineup with Joel Anthony defending the power forwards that Chris Bosh might have trouble defending.

Players like Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young, Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis have all been Anthony'd. Joel's defense on these impact players that have all killed the Heat in the past has led the Heat to these easy wins over the past few weeks.

He still has the size to compete with the height of other power forwards, but he also has the agility and the quick feet to keep them out of their comfort zones in the paint.

His individual defense isn't even the most that he brings because his help defense is just as efficient and as beneficial to the Heat's stifling defense.

When offenses run pick-and-rolls, Joel is usually the defender that will step out and keep the player that asked for the pick away from his destination. Anthony keeps the player beyond the three-point line, breaks down the play and doesn't allow the opposition's offense to be run. The pick-and-roll used to be one of the Heat's kryptonites, but it has been Anthony this postseason who has completely eliminated it thus far.

It also helps that Anthony's shot-blocking prowess has been at the top of its game. He's averaging two blocks per game in the postseason and has five in the first two games of the Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics.

Rajon Rondo, a player that usually thrives off of layups, hasn't been able to find a rhythm around the basket because Anthony has dominated any shot on the boards.

Thinking of Joel Anthony as the fourth-best player on this Miami Heat team probably would have meant postseason failure, but it has only translated to success thus far. Miami's defense has been impeccable and they have yet to allow a team to score more than 94 points.

The defensive lineup of Mario Chalmers, Wade, James, Bosh and Anthony has been the key behind the Heat's quick jump on the Celtics and it could continue if they can keep running it.

However, with Shaquille O'Neal possibly making a return to the Celtics starting lineup, it could mean less time for Anthony and more time for either Erick Dampier or Jamaal Magloire.

Luckily for the Heat, O'Neal is 38 years old, coming off of a serious injury and probably won't see that much playing time. It could be a problem for the Heat if they come across the Chicago Bulls in the Conference Finals with Joakim Noah manning the paint for the Bulls.

For now though, we should embrace just how far Joel Anthony has come from air-balling dunks. "The Warden" has been the anchor to the Heat's defense and it has only spelled postseason success. With Miami's defense in full force and at the top of its game, there might not be one team in the NBA that would be able to penetrate it.