Celtics rookie Tacko Fall sat on the bench for the first three quarters of Sunday’s preseason opener at TD Garden against the Charlotte Hornets hearing fans repeatedly chant his name.
But when the 7-foot-7 center finally got a chance to check into an NBA game for the first time early in the fourth quarter, he said feeling any pressure to deliver was the last thing on his mind.
“Pressure?” Fall asked afterward. “I feel like I’m in a dream.
“I’m in the Garden, playing with the Celtics and with all these players. There’s no pressure. It’s just a matter of going out there and having fun.”
Fall and the Celtics did plenty of that in the fourth quarter. The UCF product finished with five points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in eight minutes of action as Boston emerged with a 107-106 victory over Charlotte.
“I feel like I did my job,” Fall said. “I went in there, did what I need to do defensively and whenever [Celtics coach Brad Stevens] called my name offensively. Just stay patient, just kind of do whatever I was supposed to do.
“I was just trying to go out there and not try to do too much. I know with adrenaline pumping, sometimes you tend to try, but I was just trying to stay locked in the whole time.”
As early as the first quarter, fans were continually calling out Fall’s name, imploring Stevens to put him into the game. At one point in the second quarter, in the middle of one round of chants, Stevens went over to Fall and had a conversation about it, after which both of them were smiling.
“I just talked to Tacko about it,” Stevens said. “Tacko is such a gracious guy, and it puts him in such a tough spot, right? He knows he doesn’t want to put extra heat on me. Everybody wants Tacko. My kids are the same way, and everybody else. 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.”
“I told Coach, I was like, ‘I saw it coming,'” Fall said. “But I was trying to just stay locked in n the game. It was my first NBA game ever; didn’t know really when I was going to come in. If not, I was just trying to stay ready and just get ready to do my work whenever Coach called me in.”
That did eventually happen in the fourth quarter, though, and Fall almost instantly rewarded the fans by picking the ball off the rim after a Tremont Waters miss and slamming it home with two hands, drawing a massive ovation.
He received another one a short time later for swatting an attempted layup into the stands.
Meanwhile, the Celtics veterans on the bench were clearly enjoying the moment.
“It’s fun,” said point guard Kemba Walker, who also played his first game in a Celtics uniform — and did it against the only team he had previously played for in his NBA career.
“As soon as Coach Stevens called him, the ovation he got was just unreal. We all went along with it as well on the bench. 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.”
While Fall got all of the attention, the player who seems likely to beat him out for Boston’s final roster spot, rookie guard Javonte Green, had a sensational performance in his 10:54 of court time — all of which also came in the fourth quarter. Green went 7-for-7 from the field and finished with 15 points, four rebounds and an assist, in addition to slamming home several eye-popping dunks.
Green said afterward it was the first NBA game he had ever attended in person in his life.
“This was amazing,” Green said. “This is my first NBA game that I’ve ever been to, even to watch or spectate. To play in front of people at the TD Garden was an amazing feeling. You just want to go out and play your hardest for the fans.”
The one potential note of concern to come out of this game — besides an ugly defensive performance overall — was Gordon Hayward exiting the game in the third quarter with a left arm issue. He said he wasn’t sure how he hurt his arm but that he was having trouble bending it or extending it after doing something to it in the first half.
“I don’t know,” Hayward said, when asked what happened to his arm. “It happened in the first half. It’s hard to bend it or straighten it all the way. Then in the second, I thought it would loosen up, but it didn’t really loosen up. Something happened in the first half, but we’ll work on it.”
Hayward had two excellent, explosive drives to the rim in the opening minutes of the game, something that was missing from his repertoire last season as he continued his recovery from leg and ankle injuries he suffered the season before.