Celtics

Tacko Fall rises to the occasion in home debut with Maine Red Claws

Tacko Fall rises to the occasion in home debut with Maine Red Claws

PORTLAND, MAINE -- The fans came in waves, some going straight to their seats while others stopped by the nearby concession stand to pick up a snack, a drink, and maybe a Tacko Fall jersey.

And when Tacko made his way to the floor before tip-off, “Wow! He’s really tall!” was uttered by a few - OK, quite a few - folks who were laying eyes on the 7-foot-7 center for the first time in person. 

There were others in the stands dressed in taco-themed outfits, paying homage to the man of the night in Maine, Tacko Fall. 

“This is Tacko, Maine,” quipped Red Claws guard Trey Davis. 

There was an undeniable buzz at the Portland Expo Building on Friday night, and the presence of Tacko Fall had a lot to do with it. 

And to his credit he did not disappoint, tallying a double-double in Maine’s 103-100 win over the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants (0-3) in the team's home opener.

Tacko played just over 27 minutes for the Red Claws (2-0) and finished with 16 points along with game-highs in rebounds (13) and - no surprise here - blocked shots (6). 

Before the game, Tacko talked about having spent more time working on his touch around the rim which is surprising when you consider he is the NCAA career leader in field goal percentage (.740). 

But most of those baskets in college came on dunks which is no surprise considering Tacko's 7-7 frame. 

However, NBA teams aren’t going to be as easy to dunk on as the guys in college, so the idea of being able to score around the rim without dunking can only be an asset to Tacko going forward. 

The work he put in along those lines paid off on Friday night as Tacko mixed in short shots near the rim with his usual assortment of point-blank dunks. 

He also showed better movement defensively and better timing in terms of when to attempt to block shots and when to “show” as though he’s looking for another swat but elects to not go for the block.

The caliber of competition certainly has to be factored into Tacko’s play. 

But there was no getting around the fact that Tacko was a better player in every phase of his game, compared to what we saw in summer league and during preseason.

Red Claws head coach Darren Erman has been with the Celtics all season and has seen first-hand the progress made by Tacko whose impact on Friday's outcome was undeniable particularly on defense. 

“Tacko was great in pick-and-roll,” Erman said. “He really protected the rim. He was really good at it and bailed us out defensively a lot.”

While Maine led for most of the night, the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants were able to cut the Red Claws’ lead down to single digits early in the fourth quarter, only for Tacko to put them back up by double digits with a dunk that made it an 82-72 game with about 10 minutes to play. 

Tacko’s size alone makes him a force defensively.

But on Friday, he showed that he could be a contributor on offense, too. Tacko’s presence also forced the Mad Ants to pay closer attention to Tacko when he was on the floor, something that opened things up for Tacko’s teammates.

“Tacko played great,” said Tremont Waters who had 17 points to go with seven assists. “He ran the floor, finished when he got the ball; did a great job of protecting the rim. It’s so much easier playing with someone who’s standing at the rim and can pretty much block anything. There’s no sneaky, quick finishes that guards can get off.”

Not that they didn’t try mind you, only to find that Waters’ assessment of Tacko’s rim protection was legit. 

Tacko’s presence on the floor was huge, much like the attention and adulation he has received from Crustacean Nation. 

Tacko said he stepped on the floor around 4:30 p.m. and was pleasantly surprised by the large - and very loud - fan base that was already at the game. 

“It just shows how much they love the Red Claws around here,” Tacko said. “They support the team and we appreciate it.”

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Magic's Mo Bamba gushes about Tacko Fall, who might play in Orlando homecoming

Magic's Mo Bamba gushes about Tacko Fall, who might play in Orlando homecoming

Enes Kanter's injury came at a poor time for the Boston Celtics. But Tacko Fall probably isn't complaining.

The Celtics recalled Fall from the G-League affiliate Maine Red Claws on Friday morning, meaning the 7-foot-5 rookie will be with the team in Orlando for its game against the Magic (after a little detour, per NBA reporter Keith Smith).

Fall knows Orlando well, as he played college basketball at the University of Central Florida, just down the road from the Amway Center.

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He also knows Orlando's tallest player well. Mo Bamba, the Magic's 7-foot big man, became friends with Fall through Fall's former UCF teammate Ibrahim Famouke Doumbia, who is close with Bamba.

Bamba even recommended last summer that Fall work with shooting specialist Drew Hanlen, who has helped the Senegal native become more than just the tallest guy on the court.

Bamba told reporters ahead of Friday's Celtics-Magic game he still keeps in touch with Fall.

"Every now and then, I’ll hit him up and call him or text him and check him and make sure he’s doing all right up there in cold Boston," Bamba said, via OrlandoMagic.com's John Denton.

"He’s just a really good guy. His character speaks loudly for the type of person he is. (The fan reaction he gets) is kind of expected … everyone loves Tacko. Not only is he a big person, but he really does have a big personality. He’s a good guy."

Fall made a brief cameo during Boston's preseason game in Orlando in October, but he may get some actual minutes Friday with Kanter and Robert Williams both sidelined due to injury.

After all, someone needs to match up with the 7-foot Bamba -- and the Amway Center crowd needs something to cheer about.

"I trust him to give us minutes if we need them," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Fall earlier Friday.

"I also know that there'll be plenty of green because we travel well. There'll be Celtics fans cheering for him and some UCF fans. It'll be 100 percent Tacko fans."

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Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Friday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics vs. Magic odds: Best NBA picks with C's as surprising underdogs

Celtics vs. Magic odds: Best NBA picks with C's as surprising underdogs

The sportsbooks apparently aren't putting much stock into the NBA standings for the Boston Celtics' matchup with the Orlando Magic.

The Celtics are listed as 1.5-point underdogs for Friday's game against the Magic despite Orlando entering with a 21-24 record, nine games behind the 29-14 C's.

Boston won't look like the same team that blew out the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, though. Jayson Tatum and Enes Kanter already have been ruled out with injuries, while Jaylen Brown is questionable as he recovers from a sprained ankle.

Do those injuries give the Magic an edge, or will the Celtics prove the sportsbooks wrong by notching their third consecutive win?

Below are our betting predictions for Celtics-Magic, as well as two NBA locks against the spread.

(All odds provided by WestGate Superbook.)

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Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic, 7 p.m. ET

Moneyline: The Celtics have lost four of their last five games to Orlando, which may also explain why they're underdogs. But the Magic have dropped three of four, while Boston rolled without Brown on Wednesday night. I'll take the money on the Celtics (+105).

Point Spread: The beauty of these Celtics (+1.5) is that Tatum and Brown's absence just means more opportunities for Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart. Boston has covered in five of its last seven games despite dealing with several injuries and should get the job done here.

Point Total: The over is tempting considering the Celtics are averaging 126 points over their last four games. But they may have to win ugly here against a Magic team that plays at the third-slowest pace in the NBA. Give me the UNDER on the 212.5 point total

Darren's record picking the Celtics' moneyline, point spread and point total: 60-35-1 (62.5% success rate)

NBA Locks of the Night

Memphis Grizzlies (-1) at Detroit Pistons: The Grizzlies had won seven of eight before the Celtics trounced them Wednesday. They get back on track against a Pistons team that's played just one of its last eight games against a team above .500 -- and gone 4-4 in that span.

Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans (-4): Even if Zion Williamson doesn't hit four 3-pointers, his presence should energize the Pelicans at home against a Nuggets team missing four key rotation players.

Darren's record picking NBA locks against the spread: 32-31-1 (50% success rate)

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.