George sent Game 1 into overtime with a stunning 3-pointer at the end of regulation, then gave the Pacers a 102-101 lead with three free throws after a questionable foul call with 2.2 seconds left in the extra session.
James had given Miami the lead on the possession before with a drive to the right, and was called on again following a timeout, only this time he drove left.
George overplayed the inbounds pass at the top of the key, and James never hesitated attacking the basket as he blew by his defender for the game-winner to cap his sensational 30-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist performance — the ninth triple-double of his stellar career.
“Sometimes when you don’t have much time, you don’t have time to think. (James) saw daylight and he wasn’t thinking about anything else,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said of the league MVP’s winner. “We were fortunate.”
A close but sloppy game for two-plus quarters turned into a classic duel between budding rivals. The Pacers held a 2-1 series lead over the Heat in last year’s conference semis, only to have Miami win the next three games en route to their title run.
Wednesday’s game proved just as close, as there were 18 ties, 17 lead changes and neither team led by more than seven points.
Game 2 is set for Friday night in Miami.
Chris Andersen played a critical role off the Heat’s bench, connecting on a perfect 7-of-7 from the floor for 16 points, while Chris Bosh added 17 points, including a clutch three-point play in OT with the defending champs down by three.
Dwyane Wade chipped in 19 points despite dealing with knee problems, but the veteran was whistled for a foul on George while he was shooting a 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in the extra session.
George sank all three from the stripe to finish his 27-point effort. David West followed with 26 points and Roy Hibbert netted 19 with nine rebounds, though the 7-foot-2 center was not on the court for either of James’ buckets in OT.
Indiana’s backcourt combination of Lance Stephenson and George Hill shot just 4-of-19 from the field for 12 points, though Stephenson pulled down 12 rebounds and Hill handed out seven assists.
A seesaw fourth quarter began with Indiana clinging to a slim 65-64 lead, and it was no more than a four-point game over the final 12 minutes of regulation.
Bosh drained a turnaround for an 89-85 Heat advantage with two minutes left, but Hibbert cleaned up his own miss and West scored inside on consecutive possessions to even things inside the final minute.
Wade drove in untouched down the right lane and avoided Hibbert at the rim while putting in the go-ahead layup with 42.6 seconds remaining, and George preceded his heroics with a missed jumper and an unforced turnover.
George got his revenge, however, when Ray Allen, a career 89 percent free throw shooter, went 1-of-2 at the foul line to keep it a one-possession game.
Following a timeout with 11.9 seconds on the clock, George took West’s handoff well beyond the three-point arc on the left side, and, while slightly off- balanced, rose up from the NBA logo over a flat-footed James and silenced American Airlines Arena with a 32-footer with 0.7 ticks showing.
George converted a three-point play to give Indiana a 99-96 advantage late in OT, but after a Stephenson miss from long range, Bosh tipped in an offensive rebound while being fouled and completed the three-point play to even things with 49.7 seconds remaining.
West missed at the other end, and James drove past an overmatched Hill for the first of his two big baskets down the stretch.
“We pushed up on (James) a little too much and he was able to beat us off the bounce,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said of Miami’s final two possessions.
The Heat had not played since finishing off the Chicago Bulls last Wednesday and showed their rust in the first half with 13 turnovers.
After staying within one point, 22-21, at the end of the first quarter, the Pacers, who are playing in their first East finals since 2004, clamped down defensively and limited the Heat to 15 points over the next 12 minutes.
West scored eight of his 18 first-half points in the second, and Indiana went into halftime holding a 42-37 advantage.
Miami raced out of the break with a 12-2 run that James capped with a 3- pointer and a putback jumper. Indiana called a timeout to quell the rally, and George drained a 3-pointer and Hibbert scored off the offensive glass to tie things again at 49-49 and keep the back-and-forth trend going.
NOTES: James posted his 12th straight playoff game of at least 18 points, five rebounds and five assists …. Miami had not allowed 100 points during the first two series … The Heat tied a franchise record with their 147th consecutive sellout … The Pacers, who knocked off the Knicks in the conference semis, were undefeated in games where they led at halftime in their first two playoff series … The Pacers went 2-1 against the Heat during the regular season … Both teams committed 20 turnovers.