How's that for a series opener? A back-and-forth battle between the Pacers and Heat featured a breakout performance by Paul George, a questionable coaching decision by Frank Vogel and of course, LeBron James, who put up a triple-double and a game-winning lefty layup at the buzzer in overtime to give the Heat a 1-0 Eastern Conference finals series lead. Game 1 had it all.
Our panel puts it all in perspective.
1. What will we remember most from this game?
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: Paul George's definitive claim to stardom. George made his fair share of mistakes late in the game, but we'll remember the game-tying 30-footer and the clutch free throws. The most compelling thing about star power is how it helps us selectively forget. He may have overplayed LeBron at the end, but that won't totally diminish his excellent performance.
Andrew Han, Clipper Blog: Paul George's desperation 3 at the end of regulation? LeBron James' triple-double? That peculiar jump pass George threw to Sam Young, who wasn't in the game? Game 1 was packed with excitement, but what we'll likely remember most is LeBron's game-winning layup. With two seconds left in overtime, it was a wonderful snippet to caption the game: LeBron versus George, overtime, game winner.
Chris Palmer, ESPN Insider: It's got to be LeBron's game-winner. Not that he had just 2.2 seconds to work with. Not that he finished with the left. Not that he beat one of the NBA's best defenders. But his absolute lack of reaction after the buzzer. It's the unparalleled maturity and confidence that comes from knowing you're going to win. It's a good look for him.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com: LeBron's incredible buzzer-beater. At least I hope we will. In the immediate aftermath, there seems to be more focus on what Frank Vogel did wrong, as opposed to what LeBron James did right. In fairness to Vogel, James caught a pass at the 3-point line, reversed himself, swooped in for a lefty layup that beat help-side defense, and did it all in the span of two seconds. I'd rather be amazed at James than angry at Indiana's coach.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: LeBron James' walk-off layup. For all of his highlights and accolades, LeBron's résumé doesn't have many iconic, game-winning buzzer-beaters in the playoffs. He had a game-winning 3 against Orlando in 2009. Now he has this.
2. Did Frank Vogel overcoach when he benched Roy Hibbert?
Chau: Sure. It's not a smart decision to leave your best interior defender on the bench on the most important defensive possession of the game, but Hibbert's absence wasn't the only problem. George was a little too aggressive going toward LeBron, which gave him a clear opening. Sam Young did nothing to stop the attempt. These are more pertinent, tangible issues.
Han: Vogel has sat Hibbert late in games before for matchup reasons. So it wasn't entirely out of character. In this particular situation, the second instance with two seconds left, Vogel theoretically could have played Hibbert with the defense zoning or switching entirely. But again, a coach sticking to his usual adjustments is probably preferred to trying something new in pressure scenarios.
Palmer: Yes. He outsmarted himself. Maybe he needs to watch the replay of Hibbert blocking Carmelo Anthony's dunk. You make LeBron shoot jump shots. You don't let him get to the rim. You do that by having your rim protector in the game. It's just that simple.
Strauss: Yes, but I get why he did it. Bosh could pull Hibbert out of the paint, or beat him for a wide-open shot off a screen. While I'd prefer Hibbert play in that situation, you can at least see the logical underpinning for Vogel's choice. There's a difference between a coach making a decision you disagree with and a coach making a choice that has no sound basis (Scott Brooks playing Kendrick Perkins so much, for example).
Wade: Maybe. On the final play, with 2.2 seconds left, I think taking Hibbert out was a fine call. It was more questionable on the second-to-last possession when LeBron scored on George Hill. But still, with Hibbert on the floor, Miami probably gets an open jump shot. That's preferable to a layup, but not a great outcome, either.
3. In Game 1, Paul George was ...
Chau: Fantastic, but he's still wearing his weaknesses on his sleeve. Yes, he had a defensive lapse, but that wasn't his only problem. While he has improved as a creator, his ballhandling still can't be trusted in many situations, as evidenced by his six turnovers. His star burned bright Wednesday night, but there is still work to be done.
Han: A force, with not one, but two clutch 3-pointers (fouled on the second in overtime). He also spent much of the night defending the reigning MVP as capably as anyone in the league. If George's performance stays the same and his turnovers dip, he will have more than justified his rising star status.
Palmer: A revelation. Well, not really, because he's been doing this all season. But this was in the conference finals on national TV against the best player in the world. We watched him grow a little bit more on Wednesday night. He'll be a full-blown superstar by the end of the series if this continues.
Strauss: Good. It's hard to say "great" when he got badly beaten on the game-winner and seemed to end the game much earlier by throwing the ball to his bench. Of course, those bad plays sandwiched a few fantastic plays. George is in this criticism-free spot where the only people who care about him want everybody to know about him. Eventually, the ever-improving Paul George will claim the fame he deserves, and this same kind of game will result in more criticism than praise.
Wade: Able to overshadow his shortcomings with a historic 3 and clutch free throws. Early in the game he struggled, and on the final play, he made a colossal defensive blunder that let LeBron James walk to the hoop. But George was amazing and will be remembered for his crunch-time scoring heroics. LeBron's game-winner was his fault, and he has to live with that, but he will receive more praise than scorn for his performance.
4. In Game 1, LeBron James was ...
Chau: Somehow understated, despite making the biggest play of the game and finishing with a triple-double. All the talk about the Pacers' breakdown defensively obscures just how incredible the last play was. It was a sensible option given how the defense played him. He read and reacted to all of that in two seconds. Truly amazing.
Han: LeBron-esque. 30 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 blocks, 1 game winner. The kind of performance James displays on a nightly basis almost spoils fans of his brilliant play. A triple-double seems pedestrian for his abilities, to the point where Wilt Chamberlain-type 50-point, 30-rebound games might be the only thing left to raise eyebrows with regard to LeBron.
Palmer: LeBron James. Running out of words to describe what he does. We've seen him do just about everything he's doing all before. But his consistency at a stratospheric level is what's most amazing. Some of the passes he made in Game 1 you just don't see other guys making. Yeah, George is growing, but what's even more impressive is that LeBron still is, too.
Strauss: Redemptive. LeBron saved Dwyane Wade from scorn and saved himself from some criticism, as well. Wade would have been the goat for fouling Paul George's 3-point attempt, and James struggled in the fourth quarter. All of that is forgotten in the wake of the lefty finish.
Wade: The best player on the planet. Think about this: LeBron James culminated an Eastern Conference finals triple-double by blowing past a league All-Defensive team member for a game-winning layup in overtime, and the watercooler talk is focused on a coaching decision by Frank Vogel. We take James for granted at this point.
5. Game 2 will be ...
Chau: Different. As much as it'd be a fan's dream for this level of competitiveness to carry over, it probably isn't wise to expect this kind of emotional roller coaster for the rest of the series. I predict Game 2 will have a lot more Lance Stephenson. What that entails is to be determined.
Han: A litmus test. Lost in all of the hubbub of the buzzer-beater is that both teams committed a plethora of turnovers. The Pacers had Game 1 virtually won in the closing seconds of overtime but needed the desperate heave at the end of regulation to even be in that position. Will Miami have kicked off the rust by the next game, or was this an indication that every match in the series will be up for grabs?
Palmer: A flat-out battle. It'll be physical and nasty. For the team that loses Game 1, the next game is always the most important of the series. Steal Game 2 and you're in control of the series. Go down 2-0 and it's curtains. Indy made a lot of correctable mistakes and weathered a historic game from LeBron and still were in it to the buzzer. They'll be OK.
Strauss: Hyped. And the NBA needs it, what with how the playoffs have lost so many stars and storylines to injury. There's some buzz in this Heat-Pacers series. It's a fantastic matchup of size versus shooting. Styles make fights, as the saying goes, and this should be an awesome battle going forward.
Wade: Intense. Game 1 was one for the ages, and the Pacers will come out even hungrier to steal one in Miami. Every rebound will be heated. Every loose ball will be a war. Every play at the rim will be rugged. There will be blood.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Chris Palmer covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. Ethan Sherwood Strauss writes for ESPN Insider. Danny Chau, Andrew Han and Jared Wade are part of the TrueHoop Network.
• Follow the NBA on ESPN on Twitter | On Facebook | On Google+