NEW YORK — The night went just about as well as could be expected for the Celtics. They turned a close game into a laugher behind the stellar shooting of Kemba Walker before the rather subdued Madison Square Garden crowd became reinvigorated when Celtics rookie Tacko Fall made his NBA debut.
A successful night in New York became surreal when the Knick fans began chanting “We want Tacko!” as the game turned into a rout. And at the 3:38 mark, the 7-foot-5-inch Fall checked in and finished with 4 points and 2 rebounds.
The Celtics ran away in the second half of Saturday night’s 118-95 victory, responding from Friday’s tight win against Toronto with another solid effort despite some early poor shooting.
Boston outscored the Knicks, 72-44, in the second half, with 21 of those coming from Bronx native Walker, who canned five 3-pointers and scored 11 consecutive points in one stretch. Walker was 8-for-31 shooting in his first seven quarters as a Celtic and is now 15 for 26 in his past five.
This is the player Celtics fans expected, and Walker’s impact on the offense doesn’t appear to be overbearing. He picked his moments Saturday night, helping the Celtics create distance from a Knicks team that appeared to lose hope after 2½ strong quarters.
And it wasn’t lost on Walker that he excelled in an arena he’s played in since high school. His storied game-winning stepback against Pittsburgh’s Gary McGhee in the Big East quarterfinals eight years ago? At the Garden.
“This place is electrifying man, that’s for every basketball player,” he said. “This is a place as a kid you dream of playing here. It’s a special place, man.”
When asked about his resurgence after a slow start, Walker said: “It’s my teammates, coaching staff, these guys are keeping me confident, continuously talking to me. I’m also just getting in rhythm, do what I can, get to my spots, try to make the right play.”
Allonzo Trier’s two free throws cut the Celtics lead to 79-76 with 1:47 left in the third period. But rookie Grant Williams countered with two layups to spark an 11-0 run spreading into the fourth quarter and the Celtics wouldn’t be threatened again.
With the center position so thin because of injuries, the Celtics are leaning heavily on Williams, the rookie from Tennessee, who scored 7 points with 3 steals and 2 blocked shots in his second consecutive solid performance.
Meanwhile, rookie Carsen Edwards played 22 minutes and finished with 10 points and three assists, after Stevens met with him following the win over Toronto.
“I talked to Carsen on the plane and I think sometimes on back-to-backs especially, I think having a guy you can throw in there who didn’t play the night before and energize the whole group is important,” Stevens said. “And he did a great job of ball pressure and making shots. As long as he’s pressuring the ball, he’s got the green, green light. He can really stroke it.”
The MSG debuts of rookies Williams and Edwards were of course overshadowed by the premiere of Fall, who has become a national story because of his height and friendly demeanor. Chants of “We want Tacko!” began around the Garden during the second period.
And as the Celtics extended the lead to 29, the chants grew louder and guard Marcus Smart rose from the bench and motioned the crowd to get louder. Fall entered the game with 3:38 left, and any positive play by him drew ovations, similar to his NBA debut at the Las Vegas Summer League.
“The score kept going up and I thinking it might be go time,” Fall said. “You just dream of this moment, happening here at the Garden, in front of all these people. It felt amazing. I was just trying to enjoy the moment. Man, you hear the Garden . . .”
Edwards overheard Fall, and said about finally playing at the Garden, “That’s crazy ain’t it.” And Fall responded, “Yeah, that’s crazy.”
It capped a successful night for the Celtics, who returned to Boston earlier this week quite disappointed after their 107-93 season-opening loss to the 76ers. They struggled to score through the first three quarters Friday night against Toronto before a 36-point explosion in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics shot 32.7 percent from the field in the first half Saturday, allowing a 16-5 half-ending run and trailing, 51-46. Boston countered that with 59.1 percent shooting and 72 points in the final two periods.
“It’s three games in man,” Walker joked when asked about his shooting slump. “It’s just the newness of everything, a new team, new situation for me, but in the second half, I felt great. I just felt like I had to make a few adjustments on my shot and I was able to be consistent in the second half.”