Heat forward LeBron James hit a game-winning, buzzer-beating layup in overtime to defeat the Pacers 103-102 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"I knew I had time," James said. "Coach drew up a good play. I told myself I was going to attack. I had two-plus seconds to get to the rim and I was able to convert the last one."
The bucket capped a dramatic back-and-forth endgame between the two teams that stretched over the final minutes of regulation and into overtime. Shane Battier inbounded the ball from the left sideline with 2.2 seconds remaining as James popped free at the top of the key. Pacers forward Paul George slightly over-played James' catch, and James wasted no time taking a hard dribble to his left to attack the hoop.
"I just slipped up at the end," George told reporters after the game. "He made a good play. I've got to understand, you have to make LeBron shoot a jumper at that point. ... I pressured him. I was up too close on him.You've got to make him shoot a jumper."
James entered the paint seeing nothing but daylight, as a helping Sam Young was too late to influence the play. James finished a soft left-handed layup just before the buzzer sounded.
"I peeked over my left shoulder, Paul George was a little bit out of place, so I just took off," James said. "I knew I got the ball up on the backboard with enough time. It was a great game for us. Two teams fought hard and we were able to make one more play than they made."
One obvious question: Why wasn't Roy Hibbert, an All-Defensive First Team center, in the game protecting the rim?
"That's the dilemma they present when they have Chris Bosh at the five spot," Pacers coach Frank Vogel explained in his post-game press conference. "We put a switching lineup in with the intent to switch and keep everything in front of us. We pushed up a little too much and LeBron was able to beat us off the bounce. ... We expected it to go to LeBron. We expected Bosh to be a spacing option."
Young's assignment was Bosh, who wound up near the right baseline. It's not clear whether James would have even had enough time to pass Bosh the ball for a mid-range jumper before the clock ran out. Regardless, James shot 72.1 percent at the rim on the season, making the end result the worst-case scenario for the Pacers defensively.
"I think we all would [want Hibbert in]," George said. "He does an amazing job protecting the rim. I'm 100 percent sure he would have been there."
Hibbert, listed at 7-foot-2, averaged 2.6 blocks per game this season.
"I would say we would probably have him in next time," Vogel admitted.
LeBron James coasts in for the game-winner. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
"I don't know if I was surprised or not," James said, in response to a question about Hibbert being sidelined. "I really wasn't worried about if he was in at all... I was just worried about getting a bucket for our team."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his team would have run the same play regardless of whether Hibbert was in the game or not. "[James] was able to get into some room, get into some space and he made a great play from there," Spoelstra said. "He read the defense and was able to get all the way to the rim."
James finished with 30 points (on 12-for-24 shooting), 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 47 minutes to best a sensational performance from George, who finished with a team-high 27 points (on seven-for-16 shooting), five assists and four rebounds.
"[James] has an all-everything role for us and this is the norm," Spoelstra said. "This may be what it takes to beat this [Pacers] team."
The game-winner was the culmination of a wild 10 seconds of overtime that was made possible by a deep three-pointer by George in the final second of regulation. The Heat and Pacers went back and forth in the extra period until James found the ball in his hands with 25 seconds to play and the score tied at 99. Using a high screen from Norris Cole to produce a defensive switch, James sized up George Hill at the right angle as the clock ticked down to 15 seconds. Using a hesitation dribble, James blew by Hill straight to the basket, driving past a waving David West. Again, Hibbert was not in the game for match-up purposes and James converted the layup, giving Miami a 101-99 lead.
"Both situations we just pushed up too much on him and he was able to beat us off the bounce," Vogel said.
George nearly covered up for that mistake, though, by drawing a foul on Dwyane Wade while attempting a three-pointer with just two seconds remaining in overtime. The three-point attempt came from the right angle after the Pacers nearly lost possession near midcourt. Wade was apparently called for contacting George's right arm during his shooting motion but replays didn't seem to show any significant contact. The foul was Wade's sixth of the game, requiring an automatic disqualification, and George went on to sink all three free-throws, giving Indiana a 102-101 lead.
"That was unfortunate," Wade said of the foul. "You're sitting there, you can't really do much. It was very unfortunate."
James' game-winner prevented what surely would have been a major controversy over the foul call. Although Wade joked afterwards that he felt like jumping into James' arms when the basket went in, the 2013 MVP said the basket wasn't cause for a major celebration.
"I made a layup," he said. "It's not like I made something from half-court. I made a lay-up. I've been doing that since I was eight years old."
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