Fans chant "MVP!" for Heat's unsung Anthony

By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - On a night when the Miami's 'Big Three' shined as the Heat crushed the Philadelphia 76ers 94-73, it was one of the team's lesser lights that earned the playoff plaudits in Monday's Game Two of the Eastern Conference first round.

Burly center Joel Anthony's name doesn't feature on the back of many jerseys at the American Airlines Arena but when he stepped up to take a free throw, fans clad in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade shirts began chanting "MVP, MVP!"

It was no suggestion the Canadian should be considered for the league's top individual award, but rather a message that all the quality and excitement brought by James, Wade and Chris Bosh would count for much less without the hard-working physical commitment brought by the 28-year-old.

"Joel? He was simply outstanding," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, the first of many to praise his impressive defensive display and work-rate.

"We have always valued Joel Anthony more than a lot of other teams would I think. He is arguably the hardest worker we've ever had in this organization. His success on the court is a direct residual of what he puts in, the sweat that he puts in.

"He put in a lot, erasing a lot of mistakes and stepping up to the challenge one-on-one."

Anthony is in his fourth season in Miami and his first three went by largely unnoticed.

It was only the deal he was awarded in the last off-season -- $18 million over five seasons -- that brought scrutiny.

Spending plenty of minutes on court with the Heat's much-hyped trio, Anthony initially felt a little uncomfortable in such company.

However, he has become at home in his role as destroyer-in-chief, particularly in the past six weeks as the Heat finished the regular season strongly to secure the second seed.

"With Joel, its about confidence," said James.

"Maybe in the course of the year he lacked a bit of that confidence in himself and his ability -- but he's grown, he's done a great job with his role.

"He is a real presence at the rim that we need, he makes people change their shot and I can hear them saying, 'where's he coming from?' He's athletic and he is determined."

Andrea Iguodala of the 76ers, who shot just 34.2 percent from the field, had no doubt that Anthony had a big part to play in an outstanding Miami defense.

"You have to give a lot of credit to Joel Anthony -- he gives a lot to that team that doesn't always show up on the stat sheet -- he cleans it up," he said.

Anthony's four points and six rebounds would hardly grab attention but he spent more than 26 minutes on the court blocking routes, closing down opponents and tidying things up.

Team mate Bosh enjoyed the chant from the crowd and said it could only help the man from Montreal.

"It's funny but it's good for his confidence," he said.

"We know he's not going to get the MVP, I'm not going to get the MVP, but it's the fans showing their support and he deserves that."

(Editing by Ian Ransom)