BOSTON — The first “We Want Tacko!” chant took little more than a quarter to arrive at TD Garden. Near the visitor’s bench, two guys dressed in taco costumes held up a “We Want Tacko” sign during every stoppage in play to stoke the fervor. By the fourth quarter, there had been at least five separate chants for Tacko.
Finally, with 9:14 to play in the fourth quarter, Celtics coach Brad Stevens gave the fans what they wanted. TD Garden roared with an energy typically reserved for a playoff game when Fall started towards the scorer’s table, and Fall’s own teammates, including newcomer Kemba Walker, got swept up in the moment, cheering emphatically as he entered the game.
21 seconds later, Fall tip-dunked a Tremont Waters miss. Shortly after, he dismissively swatted a Kobi Simmons layup attempt while barely leaving his feet.
Yes, TackoMania ran wild as the Celtics held on to beat the Charlotte Hornets in their exhibition opener.
"Everybody wants Tacko. My kids are the same way, and everybody else,” said Stevens. "I think that's cool, and that's great but I just hope people continue to appreciate him for what he is as a person and how hard he's working to try to make it to the NBA. Because he's a really good kid and he's really, really working hard, and I think he's going to be in the NBA for a long time.”
That’s quite a compliment for a player who’s trying to simply muscle his way onto Boston’s roster. Fall is on an Exhibit 10 deal, which is essentially a training camp invite. The Celtics must decide if they want to sign Fall to the lone vacancy on their 15-man roster, maneuver to open up one of their two 2-way player slots, or risk putting him on waivers with hopes of funneling him to their G-League affiliate in Maine.
What’s clear is that Fall is already a fan favorite — maybe the likes of which we’ve not seen since Brian Scalabrine — after a very intriguing summer league stint with the Celtics. The 7-foot-7, 310-pound Fall is incredibly raw but his potential — and, yes, marketability, too — might be just too good for Boston to risk losing.
Stevens said he talked to Fall after Sunday’s game, worried that all the chants might put additional pressure on an undrafted player already trying to simply show he deserves an NBA opportunity. Fall told his coach it wasn’t an issue.
"He was a little worried about me, just making sure I don’t get distracted. I said, ‘Coach, I was more worried about you,’” said Fall, noting the pressure fans put on Stevens to put Fall in the game. "I said don’t worry about me, I’ll be OK. So we were just joking about it.”
If it seemed like the Fall hype couldn’t possibly sustain from the summer — when he was the most Googled Celtics player, even after the team signed Kemba Walker — well, it has. And Walker is fully on board with it all.
“It’s fun. As soon as coach Stevens called [Fall], the ovation he got was just unreal. We all went along with it as well on the bench,” said Walker, who got big cheers but nothing quite like Fall in his Garden debut. "We were so happy for him.
"The greatest thing about it is he’s such a good person. He’s such a good kid, great fun to be around, he works extremely hard. So he deserves that ovation. I’m super happy for him.”
Fall was sitting with this reporter at the Auerbach Center last week when he was told that most Celtics fans weren’t asking us reporters about Walker this summer, they wanted to know more about Fall.
Fall marveled at this. He shook his head and noted, “Kemba is an All-Star. I’m not even on the roster.”
At that moment, Walker came within earshot. Fall stopped him to relay what he had just been told. A smiling Walker clapped his hands and told Fall he deserved all the hype he gets.
Fall is appreciative of all the support. That his teammates are so effusive in their praise only hammers home how hard he has already worked since latching on with Boston after going undrafted.
The Fall experience is undeniably enthralling. The early block-and-dunk sequence left TD Garden shaking far stronger than any preseason game should ever allow. Fall had a little turnaround hook shot a little after before a tough sequence in which he got called for an offensive foul and then a defensive three-second violation. When the Hornets got within a possession late in the game, Stevens subbed in Grant Williams to help close out the win.
Fall said he’s just focused on playing the best he can.
"Maybe if it was the first time [Fall got attention], but now I’ve kind of got used to it, and I see it as a blessing,” said Fall. “Just try to go out there and do my job and not let those people down whenever I’m on the court.”
Is there a pressure that comes with playing when fans are demanding for you to get playing time?
"Pressure? I feel like I’m in a dream,” said Fall. "I’m in the Garden, playing with the Celtics and with all these great players. There’s no pressure, it’s just a matter of going out there and having fun.”
As Fall was wrapping up his postgame media session, a loud voice from across the locker room bellowed, “Tacko!”
“Hey Marcus,” Fall sheepishly responded to veteran Marcus Smart.
Yes, even after the game was done and the fans all cleared out, they were still chanting for Tacko inside the Garden.
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