LeBron James lived up to his status as this season's NBA Most Valuable Player, scoring the winning bucket as time elapsed in overtime to give the Miami Heat a thrilling 103-102 victory here over the dogged Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Pacers had taken a 102-101 lead with 2.2 seconds remaining in the first overtime of Wednesday night's game at the American Airlines Arena, thanks to three clutch free throws by star forward Paul George, who had been fouled on his 3-point attempt by Dwyane Wade.
That left enough time, however, for James to receive an inbounds pass from teammate Shane Battier and dart to the hoop past George for a layup just before the final buzzer sounded.
Afterward, Pacers coach Frank Vogel came under fire for his decision to remove center Roy Hibbert from the game in the waning seconds. He said he wanted a player who could defend Heat big man Chris Bosh on the perimeter, but the move left the Pacers without a shot blocker at the rim and James took full advantage.
The Heat superstar notched a triple-double, scoring 30 points on 12-24 shooting, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists. He also recorded three blocked shots.
Miami had a chance to clinch the game in regulation but a late missed free throw by the normally automatic Ray Allen gave the Pacers a chance and a last-gasp 3-point heave by George tied the game at 92-92.
The game was nip and tuck throughout, featuring 18 ties and 17 lead changes.
Dwyane Wade added 19 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Heat, while Chris Andersen gave the team a spark off the bench with 16 points and five rebounds in just 18 minutes of play.
George led all Pacers players with 27 points and power forward David West had a highly effective scoring night with 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
Game 2 will be played Friday night in Miami. EFE