A long-range penalty three minutes from time from Owen Farrell snatched a draw for the Lions in an epic third Test and with it a share of the series.
The All Blacks had led 12-6 at half-time through tries from Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett, and had blown at least two other clear try-scoring opportunities.
But three penalties from Farrell and a monster from Elliot Daly from beyond halfway tied it up at 12-12 with 20 minutes to go.
Not since 1994 had the All Blacks lost at Eden Park, and not in 19 years had they lost consecutive Test matches at home.
And with Jerome Kaino sin-binned and the red-shirted masses in the stadium roaring there was a glorious chance for the Lions to make even more history and win a series in New Zealand for only the second time in 100 years.
Handling errors crept in as minutes ticked away, and when replacement prop Kyle Sinckler was penalised at a scrum on his own 22, Beauden Barrett kicked the penalty, only for Farrell to hit back with a nerveless effort of his own.
And neither side could land the knock-out blow in a frantic final few moments, although New Zealand thought they might when referee Romain Poite controversially changed a home penalty decision in the tourists’ 22 to a scrum.
Before the series began, the All Blacks were clear favourites, and when they won the first Test at a canter the idea of a drawn series seemed a distant one.
To come back from there to share the spoils is a remarkable achievement, but there was a tangible sense of what might have been having come so close at the death.
All Blacks miss chances to move clear
That the Lions were within six points at the interval was mainly down to the unusual profligacy of the home side in a contest of breathless pace and intensity.
First Julian Savea dropped the ball on the left wing with his route to the try line open, and then the older Barrett brother Beauden spilled a short pass 10 metres out with the defence on its heels, before Laumape too knocked on with green space and the white line ahead of him.
But there was poise too from their least experienced men amongst the mayhem, 20-year-old Jordie Barrett tapping back his brother’s cross-kick to set up the opening try for Laumape – the pair of them both starting a Test for the first time – and then running on to Anton Lienert-Brown’s flat pass for the second try after Laumape’s brilliant off-load.
Beauden Barrett also missed a kickable penalty and conversion, the Lions staying in touch through Farrell’s boot even as the inside-centre was uncharacteristically off-key with his passing game.
Lions left with pride and regret
For all their obduracy, the Lions too will look back at chances not taken in a match left open for a hero to step forward.
When Kaino was yellow-carded for a forearm to the face of Alun Wyn Jones on 49 minutes and the score at 12-9, the thousands of Lions supporters in the ground sensed that this might be their team’s time.
But hard hands and anxious heads proved costly, a knock-on, forward pass and lost line-out all throwing away promising territory and momentum.
Even after Farrell’s late leveller there were slim chances, the All Blacks initially awarded a penalty by Poite from the re-start when replacement hooker Ken Owens caught the ball in an offside position after Liam Williams had got hands to it in the air.
But the French official then reviewed it and called it instead as an accidental offside, and from the subsequent scrum the Lions then almost broke away themselves.
When the final whistle went there was almost a surreal atmosphere in the ground, a sense of anti-climax that was soon washed away by the realisation that this had been one of the great Lions matches.
Man of the match: Jonathan Davies
Skipper Sam Warburton and tour totem Maro Itoje also had outstanding games, but the outside centre – ever-present throughout the last two Lions series – was both menacing in attack and remorseless in defence, his hit on Jordie Barrett the tackle of the match, his kicking near-flawless on a night when nerves got to so many.
What did the analysts make of it?
Ex-Wales and Lions flanker Martyn Williams: “It should have been a penalty to the All Blacks at the death. Romain Poite has done the Lions a huge favour there.
“Whether he’s bottled it, only he knows. You very rarely see a referee change his decision.
“We’ll be talking about this for about 100 years. It was an unbelievable Test match but if the All Blacks had had a goal kicker in the last two Tests, they would have won – but in a few weeks it will be a moral victory for the Lions.”
Ex-England and Lions scrum-half Matt Dawson: “Ken Owens was in front of Liam Williams, he had plenty of time to skirt out the way and not touch the ball.
“He went to play the ball, then took his hands away. That was a sign he’d made a massive error, that was a penalty.”
How about the players?
Lions captain Sam Warburton: “I thought it would have been harsh for either side to lose.”
New Zealand captain Kieran Read: “I feel pretty hollow. To walk away with a draw doesn’t mean much. [But] in the future I will look back at this with pride.
“My view is that it was a penalty [for offside at the end], he ruled it correctly from the start. But that isn’t why we lost the game, it was an accumulation of all things throughout.”
Lions: Liam Williams (Wales); Anthony Watson (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Elliot Daly (England); Johnny Sexton (Ireland), Conor Murray (Ireland); Mako Vunipola (England), Jamie George (England) Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) Sam Warburton (capt, Wales), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales)
Replacements: Ken Owens (Wales), Jack McGrath (Ireland), Kyle Sinckler (England), Courtney Lawes (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Rhys Webb (Wales), Ben Te’o (England), Jack Nowell (England)
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett; Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Kieran Read.
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Malakai Fekitoa.