Defoe struck in the 71st minute of a pulsating encounter after Liverpool opened the scoring via Djibril Cisse in the first half.
Little looked on when Defoe challenged Jamie Carragher for Fredi Kanoute's flick on but he pounced on the loose ball and, in a flash, drilled the ball past Jerzy Dudek at the near post.
It was just reward for a spirited comeback after Liverpool dictated much of the first half.
We started with no less than six debutants - latest recruit Noureddine Naybet, youngster Phil Ifil, just 17, goalkeeper Paul Robinson, Pedro Mendes, Erik Edman and Sean Davis. Thimothee Atouba made it seven on the day when he came on as substitute in the second half.
Liverpool, in Champions League action on Tuesday, pushed us back in the early stages but all their efforts came from distance as Naybet and Ledley King led a fine defensive display - Naybet an instant hit with a magnificently timed tackle on Harry Kewell and fantastic block to deny Milan Baros.
The visitors' pressure told in the 38th minute when Steve Finnan collected a cleared corner, lobbed the ball back into the box and Jamie Carragher won a key flick on for Cisse to guide home his volley from 10 yards.
We took the game to Liverpool in the second half though and John Jackson, Fredi Kanoute and Defoe all had half-chances inside the first 10 minutes.
The equaliser finally arrived inside the final 20 minutes as Kanoute flicked on a deep free-kick, Defoe went up with Carragher, latched onto the loose ball and despatched past Dudek.
Robinson produced the save of the game to tip over Carragher's header from Finnan's corner and in the end, a point apiece was about right.
MINUTE BY MINUTE
3mins: CHANCE. Kewell free-kick met by Gerrard six yards out but couldn't keep header on target.
6mins: YELLOW. Kanoute for foul on Hamann.
5mins: Fierce Baros shot deflected up in the air by King.
9mins: Ambitious Hyypia shot from 35 yards fizzed a couple of yards wide.
11mins: Sweet strike from Cisse from 25 yards straight at Robinson.
14mins: Tame Cisse volley from Kewell's header no problem for Robinson.
16mins: Fantastic cross from Jackson bound for Defoe until long leg of Hyypia cleared
17mins: PENALTY? Claims from Gerrard for a shirt tug by Ifil but Gerrard went down too easily.
22mins: CHANCE. Hamann attempted shot fell kindly for Finnan, cutback to Baros, 10 yards out, goalbound effort until superb sliding block from Naybet deflected it over
24mins: YELLOW. Redknapp for foul on Gerrard.
24mins: CHANCE. Redknapp drilled 50-yard pass wide to Jackson, early cross met by charging Davis but couldn't keep header on target.
32mins: Long throw from Edman came out to Jackson, 20 yards out, shot looked like it was going wide but cleared anyway by Riise.
35mins: Mendes free-kick cleared to Redknapp, edge of area, difficult volley screamed over.
37mins: Kewell bundled his way through Redknapp and Ifil, low, driven cross deflected inches over by Naybet.
38mins: GOAL. From corner, ball went wide to Finnan, cross flicked on by Carragher and volleyed home by Cisse from 10 yards. 0-1.
40mins: Spectacular Gerrard volley always dipping over from 25 yards.
Half-time: Spurs 0, Liverpool 1
50mins: Clever flick from King almost released Defoe but Gerrard back to clear.
51mins: Long ball from Ifil knocked down by Defoe's towering leap, Jackson right-foot drive always rising.
52mins: Jackson stepped inside Josemi, early cross but Kanoute couldn't get anything on header.
53mins: Free-kick routine, Gerrard rolled ball back to Kewell on edge of box but Davis out to block effort.
56mins: Brilliant skills from Defoe edge of box, tricked past Hyypia and Carragher but could only poke shot wide.
60mins: Mendes 30-yarder high and wide.
62mins: CLOSE. Kewell run before unleashing 25-yarder inches wide.
63mins: SUB. Sinama-Pongolle for Cisse.
68mins: Riise's no-thrills free-kick deflected just wide by defensive wall.
68mins: YELLOW. Sinama-Pongolle for foul on Edman.
69mins: SUBS. Atouba for Jackson, Doherty for Naybet.
71mins: GOAL. Defoe's half-chance. Free-kick into box, Kanoute won first ball in the air, Defoe got a break in challenge with Carragher, controlled and drilled home at near post. 1-1.
71mins: YELLOW. Defoe for taking off shirt in celebration.
75mins: SAVE. Carragher power header from Finnan corner but Robinson up to the task and tipped over.
78mins: SUB. Warnock for Baros.
80mins: Superb cross from Atouba from left, half-cleared by Hyypia, ball fell to Defoe who snatched shot wide under pressure.
81mins: Defoe attempted tricky volley, hit wide.
81mins: SUB. Brown for Redknapp.
82mins: Atouba lost possession, won it back, took early shot from 20 yards but dragged it wide.
83mins: SUB. Biscan for Hamann.
87mins: Biscan long shot straight at Robinson.
Line-ups: Spurs: Robinson, Ifil, Naybet (Doherty, 69), King, Edman, Mendes, Davis, Redknapp (Brown, 81), Jackson (Atouba, 69), Defoe, Kanoute. Subs: Keller, Silva.
Liverpool: Dudek, Finnan, Hyypia, Riise, Kewell, Gerrard, Cisse (Sinama-Pongolle, 63), Baros (Warnock, 78), Hamann (Biscan, 83), Josemi, Carragher. Subs: Kirkland, Henchoz.
Referee: Dermot Gallagher.
A typical poacher's goal from Jermain Defoe got the Jacques Santini era off the mark in the Premiership with a draw against Liverpool.