LeBron James proved once again why he deserved to be crowned the NBA's Most Valuable Player with a buzzer-beating layup in overtime on Wednesday night to lead the Miami Heat over the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the Eastern Conference finals, 103-102.
The final play of the game will likely lead to serious questions about the Pacers' defense and substitutions. After a timeout with 2.2 seconds remaining in overtime, center Roy Hibbert, who averaged 2.6 blocks per game on the regular season, was on the bench. His presence appeared to be needed as James drove to the basket without a defender there to contest the layup. The reasoning for Hibbert on the bench was likely due Heat forward Chris Bosh's ability to knock down outside shots and spread the court.
"I would say we would probably have [Hibbert] in next time," said Pacers head coach Frank Vogel.
Pacers forward Paul George defended James on the play, and appeared to overcommit to the Heat superstar, who drove past him with ease. James is certainly capable of draining an outside shot, but George may have been better served to take a chance on James's shooting ability over his penetration skills.
Game One was a back-and-forth contest from start to finish. Both teams were unable to establish a double-digit lead, and both had solid shooting nights, with Miami finishing at 47.7 percent field-goal shooting, and Indiana at 44.6 percent. Each team turned the ball over 20 times.
"It took an overtime to get it done," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Glad to get that one."
James clearly looked like the best player on the court in the series opener, finishing with 30 points, 10 rebound and 10 assists. His two layups in the final 12 seconds of overtime were crucial to the Heat's home victory.
Miami's Dwyane Wade, who fouled out in the closing moments, finished with 19 points, while Chris "Birdman" Andersen scored 16 by converting all seven of his shots, and both his free throws.
George was nearly the hero for the upset-minded Pacers. The burgeoning forward hit a 32-foot three-point shot with 0.7 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime. In the final seconds of overtime, George was fouled by Wade on a three-point shot, and hit all three of his free throws to give Indiana the short-lived lead. The 23-year-old finished with 27 points, five rebounds, and four assists.
George was helped by a stellar performance from his starting frontcourt teammates. Hibbert and David West combined for 20-of-35 shooting, and 14 rebounds. The backcourt and the bench combined to score just 30 total points.
"Two great teams just throwing punch for punch," Vogel said. "Our spirit is very high, very confident. We know we can play with this basketball team."
Game Two is on Friday night at American Airlines Arena in Miami.