About a half-hour after the Celtics’ 107-106 preseason win over the Hornets was complete on Sunday, Jayson Tatum was sitting near his locker and soaking his feet in ice water as the 7-foot-5-inch center Tacko Fall walked over and pulled up a chair.
Tatum asked Fall if he had been nervous making his NBA debut. Fall shook his head and told Tatum he was fine, especially after he scored his first basket.
When he threw down a two-handed slam about three minutes into the fourth quarter, the crowd stood and roared and acted like it was a game-winning shot in a playoff game. The fans’ only frustration was that the moment had not occurred earlier.
With his startling height, made-for-TV name and gracious manner, Fall became a sensation at the Las Vegas summer league in July. Fans in Boston could mostly just watch those games from afar, of course, and the intrigue surrounding him only ballooned from there.
The first chants of “We want Tacko” began early in the second quarter Sunday, and they were loud and constant after that. At one point, coach Brad Stevens walked over to Fall on the bench and tried to ensure that he was not being distracted by the carnival atmosphere that seemed to be getting more intense as time passed.
But Fall, an undrafted free agent from Central Florida, told Stevens that he was fine. After all, these reactions are nothing new to him.
“Maybe if it was the first time,” Fall said. “But now I’ve kind of got used to it, and I see it as a blessing, and just try to go out there and do my job and not let those people down whenever I’m on the court.”
When Fall entered the game with 9 minutes, 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter, TD Garden erupted. Then, in short order, he had his follow slam and a blocked shot. He added another block, and showed a soft touch on a turnaround jumper. And the crowd celebrated each time.
“We were so happy for him,” Celtics point guard Kemba Walker said. “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.”
Stevens said he was wary of putting Fall in an uncomfortable situation. The coach wanted to give the fans what they wanted, but he did not want to make it awkward.
“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,” Stevens said. “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.”
Fall, who is vying for Boston’s final roster spot, said he felt no pressure.
“Pressure?” he said. “I feel like I’m in a dream. 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.”