Celtics

Ex-coach Johnny Dawkins on Tacko Fall: 'His room for growth is astronomical'

Ex-coach Johnny Dawkins on Tacko Fall: 'His room for growth is astronomical'

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Johnny Dawkins spent three years at the University of Central Florida as Tacko Fall’s head coach with Fall’s play being a key to the team’s recent success. 

But as good a college player as Fall was, Dawkins sees his growth curve as a basketball player continuing to grow now that he’s on the cusp of being an NBA player. 

Dawkins was in attendance at the Orlando Magic’s Amway Center on Friday when Fall (signed by the Celtics to an Exhibit 10 contracts which guarantees he’ll be in training camp but very little beyond that opportunity) and the Boston Celtics defeated the Magic 100-75. 

Dawkins spent some time talking with NBC Sports’ Abby Chin about - what else? - Tacko Fall. 

“He (Fall) made tremendous progress for us,” Dawkins told Chin. “His best basketball is still ahead of him. Like I’ve always said, when you start that late, his room for growth is astronomical. I’m so excited because I think he has a great opportunity to continue to that.”

Fall came to the United States from Senegal when he was 16 which was around the time the now-23-year-old Fall began playing basketball. 

Standing 7-foot-7, his size alone makes him a standout wherever he goes. 

But more than his play, Dawkins was impressed even more by Fall the person. 

“He’s a humble young man,” Dawkins said before adding, “He’s been in this situation a long time with his size. He’s a people person, he’s very friendly. Everyone that meets him becomes a fan of his, because they realize just how good a person he is and what he brings to the game of basketball but also what he brings off the court as well.”

So it was a surprise to no one to hear the intermittent cheering by the Orlando Magic (and presumably UCF) fan base wanting to see for Fall play.

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the fans longing for Tacko to play intensified with each passing minute. 

At one point, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens started walking down the bench which led to fans anticipating he was going to substitute Fall into the game. 

Instead, he put Tremont Waters in and soon after Waters we saw Vincent Poirier play which led to a chorus of boos directed at Stevens. 

It was clear that there were moments when the cheering from fans to put Fall in the game, made him uncomfortable. 

“I think it’s fun that everybody is excited about it, but I’m sure it’s not comfortable for him you know,” Stevens said. “This is why I say all the time how impressed I am with him because he just handles everything with a smile and grace.”

Stevens added, “I actually told him at the six or seven-minute time-out, I said, “Hey, if it gets to five minutes and you haven’t gone in yet, just come and just throw your stuff down at my face and just walk in and then we’ll all play along. We didn’t get to that. That would have been good. He’s really getting better as a basketball player; not as good an actor yet.”

And for Fall to continue to improve as a player, Dawkins has a few things in mind to make that happen. 

“Tacko needs to continue doing what he’s doing, and that’s go out there and know who he is,” Dawkins said. “He’s a traditional big man. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s a rim-protector and he’s a high percentage finisher around the basket. If he sticks to those things … he can play for a long time in this league.” 

Highlights: Celtics roll in laugher vs. Magic>>>

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Brad Stevens on how Celtics home dominance establishes a goal set before this season

Brad Stevens on how Celtics home dominance establishes a goal set before this season

Brad Stevens was asked about the home winning streak* Boston teams have been on recently after the Celtics ran their own home streak to a legitimate nine (Sorry, Bruins, but an overtime loss, even in a shootout, is still a loss) with a 108-95 win over the Denver Nuggets Friday night.

*For the record, it's the Celtics 9-0, the Patriots 5-0, the Bruins 12 wins with one OT loss and four shootout losses and even the Red Sox 1-0 since Boston dropped its second-to-last home game at Fenway Park on Sept. 28. So, technically, the REGULATION, regular-season, home winning streak stands. 

There's also that little matter of home playoff losses for the C's and B's last spring. Those are as real as they come.

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Still, with all this winning going on lately, the Boston teams must like playing at home, but Stevens pointed out how the Celtics' recent run of success helps accomplish a goal his team set coming off a season filled with bickering that ended with a second-round playoff exit. 

"We said all along with this group our No. 1 objective was to be a team that Boston liked," he said. "That's it. We'll, hopefully, be that."

Never losing in front of your paying customers goes a long way toward that goal.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App. 

Celtics season is bringing the best out of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum

Celtics season is bringing the best out of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum

BOSTON — While TD Garden lost its collective mind as his 3-pointer splashed through the twine, Jayson Tatum stared deep into a courtside TV camera and confidently skipped his way back towards midcourt. 

Jaylen Brown, who had lit the crowd’s fuse a possession earlier with a rim-rocking dunk, rushed over for an emphatic back bump to celebrate his team’s lopsided lead over the visiting Denver Nuggets.

In a way, it felt like the 2018 playoffs again. Tatum and Brown spearheading the Boston Celtics' offensive attack. The Jays. Ying and yang. Fire and ice. Peaches and Herb (you know, because they’re reunited and it feels so good).

OK, so Tatum and Brown were never really separated. But the construction of last year’s team didn’t quite allow their talents to ever be on full display. And neither player really put his best foot forward, either, given the conditions.

But Boston’s offseason roster overhaul, and the lessons learned last season, have provided Tatum and Brown a new opportunity to showcase their talents. They’ve both responded by playing at an All-Star-caliber level while stating a strong case as the best young duo in the NBA.

Tatum and Brown partnered up for 47 points on Friday night, helping Boston to a  108-95 triumph over a Nuggets team that has lingered near the top of the west for much of the first quarter of the season. Tatum and Brown combined for seven 3-pointers against the NBA’s top-ranked defense — two more than the Nuggets made as a team — and helped Boston really tear the game open in the second half.

This is what Celtics brass hoped was possible entering the season. In the aftermath of signing Kemba Walker this summer, it was fair to wonder if the team might be overstocked with perimeter players and, at that point, Brown’s future was a bit uncertain (before the extension he would eventually ink). The possibility of moving a wing player didn’t seem farfetched.

But the message from those inside Boston’s front office was consistent. The team wanted to see how Tatum and Brown performed together, especially outside the calamity of last season. The Celtics had hoped that the new roster makeup would open avenues for Tatum and Brown to thrive in ways that better resembled the 2018 playoffs than the 2018-19 regular season.

At the quarter pole of the new season, things couldn’t be going much better for the tandem. Tatum is averaging 21.2 points, 7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.4 steals over 34.3 minutes per game, all while putting up the best on/off splits on the team. Brown is up to 20 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.2 steals over 33.4 minutes per game.

Both players are right on the heels of Walker for the team lead in scoring. Only Gordon Hayward, sidelined for the past 13 games, has grabbed more rebounds than the duo this season. And there’s still the possibility that this tandem has just scratched the surface of their overall potential.

Regardless of how the cast around them looks, it’s becoming clear that the cornerstones of the Celtics team deep into the future centers on Tatum and Brown. And the players seem acutely aware of that fact.

"I think, definitely, the responsibility — a lot of it is on us, so we have to handle that kind of accordingly,” said Brown. "Just each and every night, I don’t think there’s no extra pressure that needs to be added to it. Just come out and play basketball, do what we’ve been doing. And I think everything will take care of itself.”

Brown knows his game complements Tatum’s well.

"I guess I’m more aggressive. JT’s kind of more laid-back,” said Brown. "I like to get to the basket and JT likes to step back and shoot jumpers. So a lot of times, we both mix it up a lot, sometimes I shoot 3s and sometimes he gets to the basket like today. But for the most part it’s kind of like polar opposites.”

However you want to compare and contrast, it’s working. And that’s what matters to Tatum.

"It's a lot of fun. When we're playing hard, playing together, making the right plays and he' doing things like that, it's hard not to get excited,” said Tatum. Later, he was asked about their friendship.

"It's grown a lot. I mean, we spend so much time together, obviously, over the course of 2 ½ seasons. We’ve been in some tough battles and we trust each other. I know what he's capable of and you know what he's going to bring to the table. You know what I'm going to bring to the table, especially in the toughest times. I’d go to war with him any day.”

It helps both of the Jays to have a veteran anchor like Walker alongside and empowering them to take the scoring baton when they have it going. Marcus Smart, who has seen the Jays progress, beams with pride discussing their developments.

"I think everybody sees the steps that they’ve taken towards becoming better basketball players, and it shows,” said Smart. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens is quick to note that there’s still plenty of room for growth for both 23-year-old Brown and 21-year-old Tatum. "That story will be told down the road, right?” said Stevens. "Those guys are still getting better."

But the coach knows everybody in the organization is rooting for them to stay on this path towards tandem stardom. 

"Everybody wants them to do really well,” said Stevens. "I think the great part of the whole situation is all the players, all the coaches, all the front office, the whole city, we all want Jayson and Jaylen to do really well. It’s on us to all bring out the best in them and help them continue to grow through tough times or success, and they’re having a lot of success right now. 

“With that comes the different challenges of new defenses and more attention and how do you handle that, and those guys have shown themselves well thus far.”

Yup, Tatum just keeps skipping (“That's like my thing. I try not to get too excited, but that's my thing,” said Tatum) and Brown will happily exult after a loud slam, or simply blow kisses after a big 3.

"I guess we feed off each other,” said Brown. "Kind of different games, kind of opposite, but it makes sense. Like fire and ice.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.