Chris Andersen, Norris Cole Answer Biggest Game 2 Question for Miami Heat

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterMay 21, 2014

Brian Spurlock/USA Today

INDIANAPOLIS  Away from his natural hardwood habitat, you never know what you'll get from Chris Andersen.

Sometimes it's a scary staredown. Sometimes it's a shoulder shiver. Sometimes it's a new nickname. 

Sometimes, if you're lucky, it's life advice. 

Like this, to a reporter he sought to shoo off, prior to the Heat's 87-83 win to tie the Eastern Conference Finals at one:

"You don't ask no questions, you don't get no lies." 

But there were necessary questions about Andersen's team prior to Tuesday's tip. Would Miami collectively defend with more determination and concentration than in the Game 1 debacle? Would the Heat panic under the pressure of the crowd, the stakes and what Dwyane Wade called "the healthy fear" of the first two-game deficit in a playoff series since Dallas took them out in the 2011 NBA Finals? 

And, mostly, would Wade and LeBron James get enough help? 

The first two questions were easy for avid followers of this team to answer. Yes, they would defend better; the four previous times they lost Game 1 in the Big Three era, they held the opponent to an average of 15.8 fewer points in the next contest.

No, they wouldn't crack, no more than they did in Boston in Game 6 in 2012, or against San Antonio in the 2013 Finals, or in Indiana in Game 4 of the 2012 second round, a game they just happened to watch on the television prior to this one, a game in which either Wade and Jamesremember this laterscored all 38 Heat points in one stretch. 

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But the help question?

That was more of a quandary. 

So that's where we go, though some of Tuesday's anomalies warrant attention, such as the Heat winning at the Pacers' pace after Indiana won at Miami's in Game 1, such as Paul George going 4-of-16 from the field, such as Lance Stephenson carrying the Pacers offensively for three quarters, and doing so with poiseand such as James and Wade scoring the Heat's final 20 points, and 22 of the 25 in the fourth quarter. 

"That's why they are the $100 million guys," Norris Cole said, smiling. 

But, without help, they still would have hobbled back to Miami, hearing about how their era was again on the line, hearing about how James was two games from aligning with the annual lottery champs of Cleveland, hearing about how James hadn't been aggressive enough early and Chris Bosh hadn't done enough throughout.

They needed others to keep this game in range. They need two complementary pieces to provide combative, consistent play on both ends when it counted. 

They got it in an unlikely combination, a polite churchgoer and an eccentric rebel.

They got it from Cole and Andersen, who were a combined plus-39 in 56 minutes, with 31 of those minutes coming in the second half, including all but the final 29 seconds of the fourth quarter. 

They got it from Cole as an ignitor and a defender, with a coaching assist from James. After struggling in the series against Brooklyn, the third-year point guard promised the four-time MVP that he would play better.

With Stephenson rolling against Wade and James, the latter trusted Cole to fulfill his promise. After Cole had some success switching out to Stephenson on a couple of possessions, James suggested that they flip primary defenders. 

"I just try to give confidence to guys," James said. 

"We don't have any egos out there," Cole said. "If we see something that's working, we stay with it. And we stayed with it." 

In part because James kept repeating, at every stoppage, that they should.

"It allowed D-Wade to shift to Paul George and allowed me to shift to George Hill," James said.

And that led to one of the game's critical sequences.

"A huge momentum play," James said. 

That included Cole denying Stephenson for a full 20 seconds, Roy Hibbert passing to George Hill in traffic, James stripping Hill, and Wade chasing to clean up James' layup on the other end for an 80-75 lead. 

After 23 points in the first three quarters, Stephenson scored just two in the fourth, with Cole hounding him the entire time, crowding his space and staying between him and the basket. 

"When he's able to get in rhythm with the ball, you can tell, he dribbles high," Cole said. "And I was able to keep him from getting that rhythm. I could tell he was frustrated, because his aggression went down. And I was trying to limit his catches. Every time he caught it, I was right there. Against a guy like that, you just need to stay disciplined." 

While he was disciplined and disruptive on the perimeter, Andersen was doing even dirtier work inside. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra paired the 35-year-old with Bosh for only six minutes in Game 1 but did so for 15 Tuesday, and Miami was plus-15 during that time.

Andersen provided stout defense and sure hands during the stretch, with six of his 12 rebounds in the fourth quarter12 in just 17 rebound chances, according to NBA.com. Roy Hibbert, who had seven offensive rebounds in the first three quarters, had just one in the fourth. 

He looked the worse for wear afterward; grimacing, he slid a foot across the locker room, into the shower, and moving even slower, as he returned to his locker for an interview with Heat TV.

He provided some stock answers about the importance of the victory and, of course, naturally some wisecracking comedy. Asked about the keys to the improved defense, he told the Heat's play-by-play man, Eric Reid, that he couldn't comply.

"Keys?" Andersen said. "I can't give you no keys. Steel trap. Steel trap. Ain't no keys from a steel trap, homeboy." 

That interview over, he indulged this reporter for a few off-camera inquiries, at the risk of some lies. 

"Roy Hibbert is a big man," he said. "And it takes another big man to guard him. And U.D. (Udonis Haslem) was in there battling, and putting me out there on him, and C.B. (Chris Bosh) was on him.

"So all three of us had big-time minutes on him, and were able to wear out on him, and try to get into his legs, and try to get inside position, and try to get as many offensive and defensive rebounds as we could. But he's a big dude, so regardless of what we did, he still got some rebounds."

In a rarity, Spoelstra rolled with Andersen for 29 minutes. Andersen has wanted that, and he spoke of getting his second wind Tuesday, pushing through fatigue, and "having the mental stability to focus on the task at hand," to protect the paint and box Hibbert out.

Mental stability is something he's shown on the court during his time with the Heat, something that may have been missing from aspects of his life at earlier times. 

He helped the Heat on Tuesday, as he has helped them since he signed in the middle of last season. 

That's not in question.

But there's a larger, deeper one:

Does he think that his story—undrafted, D-League, drug suspension, comeback, champion—has helped others?

That it has served as inspiration? 

"Absolutely," Andersen said. 

Does he hear that from people?

"Oh yeah," Andersen said. "One hundred percent. People always tell me. Everybody ends up going through some tough times in their life. And, you know, to use mine as a pedigree to get back to a positive lifestyle..."

He paused.

"It's an honor that people, what do you say, they look up to me, and my story, and my past, and my path, and they use it in their lives to get ahead and be positive," Andersen said.

And they're seeing him continue to do it, on the highest level, as he did again Tuesday.

"One hundred percent," Andersen said. "I don't really think about it too much. But, like I said, it's just humbling to know that people out there who have had the same kind of issues, the same problems, have used my story to help them get through their life." 

So maybe Andersen's earlier life advice, about questions and lies, wasn't entirely accurate.

Sometimes, when you ask questions, you get something real.

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