MIAMI — No, your ears did not play tricks on you. The crowd in Miami was indeed chanting “M-V-P” when Joel Anthony went to the free throw line Monday.
“I mean, wow,” said the Sixers’ Thaddeus Young.
A player known to pass the ball when he’s right under the basket has made his mark in this series with defense and rebounding, which is all the Heat ask him to do, which is all he’s capable of doing. He’s a 6-foot-9 tendon, bouncing and running around and being a pest to the Sixers in the paint.
“Joel Anthony was outstanding,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, “We’ve always valued him more than other teams would because of what he can do defensively and how he can change a game with his energy, his athleticism and his diligence. He’s arguably the hardest worker we’ve ever had in the organization. You’re happy for a guy like that because he earns everything he gets.”
Yes, good for Jo-el. Good for a backup center. Good for a guy who missed an easy alley-oop in Game 2 with nobody around him. Good for someone who elicits snickers whenever the ball finds its way into his hands. And especially good for a fourth-year player who grew up in Canada and didn’t even play basketball until he reached high school.
Anthony blocked three shots Monday and grabbed six rebounds, which aren’t massive numbers, but enough to cause his coach to say he played “a great, great game.” If you look at sheer numbers, then it wasn’t so great. Look beyond the figures, however, and you’ll realize how often Anthony either altered shots or made the Sixers think twice about taking shots.
“They defend the paint as well as anyone,” said Sixers coach Doug Collins. “Joel Anthony is a big part of that.”
As for the MVP chants? It’s becoming contagious, because now, Anthony is hearing it in the Heat locker room, most teasingly from Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
“I do provide energy and sometimes that’s overlooked,” Anthony said. “It’s nice to know the fans appreciate that. I’m happy the fans are involved in the game.”
Nobody should snatch the Defensive Player of the Year trophy from Dwight Howard and ship it south, but in his own way, Anthony is doing something defensively to get a reaction from the crowd. A reaction that’s quite different than when he goes up for a shot.