LeBron James’ layup at the buzzer Wednesday capped a bizarre Eastern Conference finals opener to give the Miami Heat a 103-102 overtime victory over the Indiana Pacers.
James took the in-bounds pass at the top of the circle from Shane Battier, drove past 6-foot-9 Pacers forward Paul George and laid the ball off the glass, sending the sold-out AmericanAirlines Arena crowd into a frenzy.
“Shane definitely gave me a great pass,” James said. “I peeked over my left shoulder and saw Paul George was a little bit out of place so I just took off.”
The play began with 2.2 seconds left in overtime.
“I had enough time to get to the basket and make a play,” James said.
The Heat appeared to have lost the game on the previous possession when George made three free throws to give the Pacers a 102-101 lead.
But James still had enough time to drive to the basket from the three-point circle.
James finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, his ninth triple-double in his career in the playoffs.
“He has an all-everything role for us and this is the norm,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This may be what it takes to beat this team.”
James was aided when Pacers coach Frank Vogel removed 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert from the game twice late in the overtime, both times before James scored at the rim.
“Both situations we pushed up on him too much and LeBron beat us off the bounce,” Vogel said.
“It would have been better to have Roy in the game, but you don’t know. I would say we probably would have him in the next time.”
George, who led Indiana with 27 points, said all the Pacers’ players would have preferred to have Hibbert in the game.
“He does an amazing job of protecting the rim,” George said. “I’m 100 percent sure he would have been there.”
George took the blame for the loss, saying he should not have played up on James and should have forced him to take a jumper.
“I felt like everything was in our favor,” George said. “When I got fouled. … you feel confident we were going to be take care of business. I slipped up at the end.
“To be in a position to take the lead in a series and not be able to do it because of the last possession, it hurts.”
George was awarded the three free throws when he was fouled by Dwyane Wade (who fouled out with 19 points) after a scramble at midcourt in which the Heat appeared to have stolen the ball. But it ended up in George’s hands and, with the score 101-99, Wade clipped George’s arm as he hoisted the long 3-pointer.
“That was unfortunate,” Wade said. “The only thing I could do was walk up to (James) and say ‘Hey, go win it.’
“As you could see I was very excited at the end. I almost jumped into his arms.”
George was responsible for the game going into overtime when he buried a 32-foot, off-balance 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Heat had tied the score 99-99 on a Chris Bosh put-back and free throw with 49 seconds remaining in OT. After a David West midrange jumper rimmed out, Vogel took out Hibbert (19 points, nine rebounds) for the first time. James then drove to the rim to give the Heat a 101-99 lead with 10.8 seconds remaining.
Chris Andersen scored 16 points, making all seven of his shots, a Heat playoff record for the most makes without a miss. Andersen kept the Heat in the game in the fourth quarter with six points and a huge block of a Lance Stephenson shot at the rim.
“Without his effort we don’t win the game,” James said.
Heat point guard Mario Chalmers bruised his left shoulder in the third quarter and never returned.
West had 26 points for the Pacers, 18 in the first half. The only thing that stopped West was foul trouble. He picked up his third late in the second quarter and was whistled for his fourth early in the third.
Wade gave the Heat a two-point lead with 42 seconds remaining in regulation, taking the ball at Hibbert for the layup.
After a Pacers turnover, Ray Allen had a chance to ice the game but made just one of two free throws to give the Heat a three-point lead. That gave the Pacers hope before George’s clutch 3-pointer.
Most of the talk before the series centered on the hard fouls and suspensions in the Heat’s 4-2 series victory over the Pacers in last year’s conference semifinals.
The officials apparently were listening and called Wednesday night’s game tight from the start.
Five players finished with four fouls, three with five fouls and Wade fouled out.
“In the end it just came down to finding a way, even if it wasn’t pretty,” Spoelstra said. “And it took an overtime to get it done. We’re glad to get that one.”
Game 2 will be played Friday night at the AmericanAirlines Arena (8:30 p.m., TNT).