MIAMI – Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Ray Allen watched the Miami Heat roll to a championship last season from afar, Birdman from the basketball abyss and Allen technically still a member of the Boston Celtics, the team the Heat vanquished in the Eastern Conference finals.
Neither one of them had a clue at that time of the role they’d play in the Heat’s initial step at repeating that feat. And yet there they were Sunday night in the midst of all of the madness at AmericanAirlines Arena as the Heat kicked off the encore tour with a 110-87 blowout win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of their first round series.
Birdman provided the energy and effort, as he has routinely since the Heat signed him off the street in January to a 10-day contract that turned into the remainder of the season once they realized what they were getting in the 34-year-old big man with the energy of a guy half his age. Allen provided the constant threat against his former team, he was a Milwaukee Buck before he played in Seattle or Boston, that he always provides. There is no court Ray Allen plays on in the NBA where the opposition doesn’t view him as a threat.
They combined for 30 of the 43 bench points the Heat used as fuel to beat down the Bucks; their reserves outscored their Bucks counterparts by 18 points in a game where the starters’ offensive production was basically a wash (67-62 in the Heat’s favor).
Anderson finished with 10 points (on 4-for-4 shooting with three dunks) and seven rebounds in 16 supercharged minutes, while Allen finished with 20 points, five rebounds and three assists. And he didn’t even shoot the ball particularly well from deep (2-for-8), not that it mattered for the Heat’s new super subs.
“They are impact players,” said Heat star LeBron James, who was spectacular and efficient in his first playoff game since the Heat’s title-clinching Game 5 win over Oklahoma City in The Finals last year. “Ray is a threat out on the floor at all times, no matter if he is making shots or not, you have to account for him. Bird raises energy every single night rebounding, setting screens, put-back dunks and blocking shots. He brings that effort.”
The Heat needed to get it from somewhere. They knew exactly what they were getting from Allen, arguably the greatest pure shooter the league has ever seen — I said arguably — and still plenty dangerous some 17 years into what is sure to be a Hall of Fame career.
Andersen was a wild card, though, a gamble the Heat made to help shore up an inside game that served as the long-glaring weakness for the defending champs.
“You don’t normally see an opportunity to pick up an impact player in the playoffs on a championship-level team,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team is 40-3 in the games Andersen has played in since joining the Heat. “To come right into your rotation in March, you don’t see that very often unless it’s a trade. He’s had a great impact on our team on both ends … and he does it in short bursts.”
His work Sunday night serves as a 16-minute infomercial for “Energy by Birdman,” complete with Heat fans and teammates clad in white flapping their wings.
That’s a pretty good playoff start for a guy who admitted to being a bit skittish in his return to the playoff spotlight.
“At first I started off a little bit nervous,” Andersen said, “But once I got that out of my system I came back in the second half and pushed myself a little bit harder to go after offensive boards, play a little bit harder on defense. We made a couple of changes on [Brandon] Jennings and [Monta] Ellis and that paid off.”
Just like that gamble the Heat made on a couple of new faces, one early and one late, to solidify their reserves.