5 career moments: an NCAA record and an NBA All-Star game to remember

Credit: David Banks

Credit: David Banks

Editor’s note: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is presenting a series of columns from our staff detailing the five most memorable games they have covered in their careers.

Confession: I've never coached a backcourt with eight MVP titles to its name like my co-worker Mark Bradley, I've never covered a Rose Bowl for the ages like my co-worker Chip Towers and I've never made Arnold Palmer cry like my editor Chris Vivlamore. But, I've witnessed some pretty cool stuff in my first few years on the job, so here goes: the five best games/events I've covered so far. I kept the criteria a little loose (it'll be fine; just nobody tell my editor).

No. 5: July 9, 2016: Pirates 12, Cubs 6

What is a regular-season, National League Central baseball game doing in the list of best games I’ve ever covered, you ask?

Because it was jam-packed with the stuff that makes plain-old regular-season baseball fun to watch: vintage Andrew McCutchen driving in three runs, Josh Bell blasting a grand slam in his second major league at-bat and, of course, the eventual World Series champions in the Cubs, who lost this series 2-1 but made sure it didn’t matter much in the end.

This was the year that the entire Cubs infield, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, second baseman Ben Zobrist, shortstop Addison Russell and third baseman Kris Bryant were named All-Stars, and it was a cool experience for me, a recent grad interning for MLB.com at the time, to see them in action.

No. 4: Jan. 17, 2020: Hawks 121, Spurs 120

Before this win, the Hawks hadn’t beaten the Spurs in San Antonio since before any members of their starting lineup that game (Trae Young, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins) was born (1997). Full transparency, I was 3 years old in 1997, so I don’t remember that one any more than those guys do.

This game felt like a significant moment for the Hawks’ young core, who learned how to grind out a tough road win, and it was a cool feeling to cover the end of that losing streak. They had lost 21 straight away games in San Antonio.

After getting down by 12, the Hawks gained ground as Reddish scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half, and a 3 by Huerter put them up by one with seven seconds to go (Reddish’s arms went up in celebration even before Huerter’s shot fell). Perhaps the more impressive feat was what came next, as one of the worst defensive teams in the league got a stop to seal the victory.

No. 3: Sept. 19, 2015: Georgia 52, South Carolina 20

Remember Greyson Lambert?

Since the Bulldogs have taken a step forward in the Kirby Smart era, this one may have faded from memory. But, when I was a senior at UGA covering football (in my pre-AJC days, in what turned out to be Mark Richt’s final year at the helm), Lambert, a graduate transfer from Virginia, had an insane performance against South Carolina that still sits at the top of the list in the record books.

This certainly wasn’t a close game, but it makes the list because of how impressive it was to watch Lambert complete 24 of 25 passes in the win, good for a 96% completion rate, which is still the NCAA record for the highest pass completion rate in a single game (minimum of 20 passes). He passed for 330 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions (obviously). I’ll never forget Richt joking how disappointed he was by Lambert’s one incompletion.

Oh, also, some guy named Nick Chubb added 159 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Wonder what he’s up to these days.

Even though Georgia went 10-3 that season, three SEC losses meant no trip to the conference championship game, so it turned out to be a pretty quiet year.

No. 2: Feb 20, 2020: Hawks 129, Heat 124 

It’s just now dawning on me that two of the best games I’ve covered happened within four days of each other. What can I say, it was an eventful February.

This was my first season covering the Hawks for the AJC, and, obviously, they (20-47) weren’t very good this year. They had their fair share of meltdowns and blowout losses, but they also snuck up on an excellent team or two for a quality upset, including this close win against a Miami (41-24) squad that was fourth in the Eastern Conference standings when the NBA suspended play March 11 because of the coronavirus.

This game makes the list because there’s really nothing like watching Young when he’s on fire. The guy is a wizard on offense, and when he swished a 35-footer in the first quarter, it seemed like we were in for one of those nights (the sellout crowd at State Farm Arena agreed). He scored a career-high 50 points, tying his career-high of eight made 3’s, and had 20 points in the fourth quarter alone.

Thanks mostly to Bam Adebayo (who is a delight to watch and I imagine an absolute terror to play against), the Hawks trailed by five with 1:31 to play, a bad sign for a team that struggled to close out games. They went on to score 10 unanswered points and pull away in pretty dramatic fashion. First came a clutch 3 from rookie Hunter, then came what seems to be one of fans’ favorite plays of the season: a perfectly executed steal and go-ahead, breakaway dunk from rookie Reddish. In a disappointing season (that may or may not be over yet?) this game stands out from the rest.

No. 1: Feb. 16, 2020: NBA All-Star game 

When’s the last time you saw intense, physical defense in an NBA All-Star game? Usually a fan-favorite because of its high-scoring, highlight-reel nature, this season’s All-Star game was popular for different reasons — new rules, which we had all balked at because they were confusing on paper, incentivized players and pumped so much energy into United Center you’d have sworn this was the playoffs. You had Giannis Antetokounmpo getting in LeBron James’ face for a block, then James chasing down Antetokounmpo for a steal on the other end. You had Hawks first-time All-Star  Young (hence why I was in attendance) nutmegging James Harden and later nailing a half-court shot, running away from 7-foot-tall Joel Embiid’s celebratory tackle/hug for dear life. And of course, you had kids from each team’s respective charity in attendance, getting excited when either Team Giannis or Team LeBron “won” a quarter, which would award their organization a donation.

The fourth quarter rules, to commemorate the life of Kobe Bryant: no game clock, first team to the final target score wins. To get that number, 24 points (in honor of Bryant’s jersey number) were added to the leading team’s score. Turns out, that made everything count a little more, and forced players to tighten things up: “Don’t let them get to 24” instead of “Let’s score a bazillion points,” which is going to happen anyway.

The result? One of the most competitive All-Star games in quite some time. Players were taking charges out there, for goodness’ sake, and it came down to a next-basket-wins scenario. Team LeBron edged Team Giannis and Young, but if Young keeps up his torrid scoring and playmaking for the Hawks, I imagine he’ll get another crack at it.