BOSTON — Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens’ family was out of town Friday so the coach called them up before Friday’s game against the Pistons and was rattling off the team’s extended injury report.
Stevens' teenage son, Brady, wondered how the Celtics were going to match up with Detroit rebound-magnet Andre Drummond. Then Stevens’ 10-year-old daughter, Kinsley, interjected from the backseat of the car.
“It’s time to give the people what they want,” Kinsley told her father.
What the people wanted, of course, was Tacko Fall. But they wanted Tacko, in part, because on Friday night, even as Kemba Walker labored through one of the roughest nights of his NBA career, the injury-depleted Celtics opened a 27-point lead and set the stage for Fall’s oddly electrifying regular-season TD Garden debut.
Even as the “We Want Tacko!” chants grew in intensity in the second half, Stevens resisted the urge to send Fall in too early. He knew he would give in eventually but, with Walker motioning for the Garden to get louder, Stevens, too, wanted to make the crowd work for it before he finally relented and sent Fall in with about five minutes to play.
"I was laughing the whole time everybody was chanting because all I could think about was Kinsley leading the cheers,” said Stevens. ‘But it was good to see him play well.”
TackoMania is an understandably notable storyline from Friday's game. Boston fans fell in love with undrafted 7-foot-5 Fall during the Celtics’ summer league stay in Vegas and his cult popularity played at least a small part in Fall muscling his way into a 2-way contract with the team during training camp.
But here’s why the Tacko hype is especially notable: His Celtics teammates were as geeked to see him on the court as the fans. Jayson Tatum repeatedly nudged Fall towards the scorer’s table before Stevens called for him, and Fall obliged to the bench’s demand to deke the fans (leading to a roar and then some groans when Fall sat back down, including when he simply stood up to dap up Walker as he exited the game).
But the bench went as wild as the crowd as Fall sprinted down the sideline, shedding his oversized warmups on the way to the scorer’s table. The entire Garden roared throughout the near minute wait before a dead ball allowed Fall to finally sub in, and they stayed standing as play resumed. Then the building lost its collective mind, roaring with playoff-like intensity, when Fall pivoted his way into a baseline sky hook that got a friendly bounce in with 1:28 to go.
Fall doesn’t get the opportunity if Jaylen Brown doesn’t have a second-quarter outburst — hitting three 3-pointers and scoring 10 points over the final 1:21 of the first half — as Boston stretched its lead to double digits. Fall doesn’t get in the game if Grant Williams doesn’t erupt for a career-best 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting, brushing off the shooting woes that defined first 25 games of his rookie season.
On a night when Walker missed all six shots he took and offset 11 assists with seven turnovers, the Celtics had every reason to struggle. Boston was still without both Marcus Smart (double eye infection) and Gordon Hayward (sore foot), and yet still took care of business against an inferior opponent.
The good vibes from all that went well on the court permeated the locker room after the game. Williams was detailing his big night — including how coaches had roasted him during film earlier this week by playing a famously terrible sportsmanship commercial after Williams put his hand up like he should have been whistled for pushing Kristaps Porzingis from behind in Dallas earlier this week — when he got asked about a raising-the-roof celebration he displayed late in the game.
Williams screamed across the locker room to teammate Javonte Green trying to determine who had started the raise-the-roof trend. Was it Green? Was it Daniel Theis. Neither player offered confirmation and instead started roasting Williams about his first career NBA dunk — a surprising tip dunk for a typically low-to-the ground player.
Fall would take his spot shortly after Williams and, as his media session winded down, Green hollered across the room, “Love you, Tacko.”
Yes, as Tatum would declare a short time later, “When you're winning, it’s fun. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
Williams noted that these Celtics are simply a loose bunch.
"I think this is just a goofy team,” said Williams. “We enjoy each other, we're having a good time. It's fun to win but it's also fun to compete with guys that you know are going to play their butts off for you every single night, play with that effort and intensity on both ends of the court. We celebrate each other, but we also get on each other.”
The expectations of last season, combined with the general underperformance of the team, often left the mood tense around these Celtics last year. It didn’t always feel like they were happy for each other’s successes and they certainly didn’t handle failures well as a group.
The Celtics are 19-7, sit second in the East behind Milwaukee, and project at a 56-win pace based on their performance. An agreeable schedule awaits to close out the year — if only because some of their competition is likewise dealing with injuries — before the schedule jumps into overdrive in January.
Getting Williams going could be a big help, even if the Celtics soon get back Smart and Hayward. Further down the road, they could add Robert Williams (hip bruise) and Vincent Poirier (fractured finger). The margin for error is thinner without those players and yet the Celtics showed again Friday night that it might not matter when young stars Brown and Tatum play the way they did.
It helps, too, that Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter were up to the challenge of battling with Drummond, who finished with a modest-by-his-standards 11 rebounds over 31 minutes. Kanter put up a season-high 18 rebounds in 21 minutes, while Theis had four blocks as part of a solid 22 minutes.
All of which paved the way for Tacko Time. Fall, much to the delight of the crowd that serenaded him with MVP chants, put up 5 points on 2-of-2 shooting with two rebounds, a block, and two turnovers.
Asked about how far he’s come early in his pro career, Fall said, "A long way, and I have a long way to go. Still have to stay the course. Trust in the plan they have for me and things will work out … I have so much potential. I don’t want to be average. Keep working.”
But even he knows how much easier it makes things when his teammates are pulling for him just as hard as the crowd.
"Says a lot about the team we have this year,” said Fall. “Everyone pulling for each other, everybody is happy for everybody’s success, and that means a lot for me that people want to see me do good, from the people who work in the facility to the front office, players, everybody.”
Yes, even the coach’s daughter is rooting for Tacko.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Hornets, which tips off Sunday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Tommy have the call at 6 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.