NEW YORK – Even here, in the heart of Knicks country, Tacko Fall heard the crowd chant his name in his NBA debut.
With the Knicks finally put under in Saturday night’s 118-95 Celtics win, and with both benches queuing up to take the floor late in the fourth quarter, the Madison Square Garden crowd started chanting for the Celtics center.
Marcus Smart waved to encourage the cheers, and his 7-foot-5 rookie teammate responded with a pair of dunks and a thundering block of Kevin Knox.
‘For us, we’re trying to support each other, and we understand Tacko is a unique person – (7-foot-5) and you don’t find that often,” said Smart. “We want everybody to succeed. When we hear Tacko he’s a little shocked. We want to show him that we’re here for him and support him. If we can encourage any of those guys we will. When we heard them screaming for Tacko we all joined in, especially me. I’m a big fan of Tacko.”
Fall, told that the fans don’t cheer for the Celtics in New York, responded with a good-natured, “I see!”
Yes, he did see – an entirely different experience for a green-clad visitor.
“It was unbelievable. All throughout the game I really didn’t know what was going to happen and then once the score kept going up I was thinking ‘this might be go time,” he said. “Like I said you just dream of this moment. For me, it happening here at the Garden, in front of all these people, hopefully it will be soon at the TD Garden in Boston, but it felt amazing. Just going out there and trying to have fun and enjoy the moment.”
The Celtics don’t play again until Wednesday against Milwaukee in the Garden, and as such Smart doesn’t want his teammates to stray too far apart. So he rented out a theater in the Showcase SuperLux in Chestnut Hill for a private screening of Terminator: Dark Fate.
Last season’s issues considered, Smart wants to maintain these early vibes of goodwill.
“On and off the court is incredible for us,” said Smart. “Everyone’s joking, everyone’s laughing, everyone’s happy. That was a big thing for us. Not everyone was happy last year. It helps a lot.
“Just cause last year a big thing for us was the chemistry. Some days we had it, some days we didn’t, so this year I wanted to make sure the chemistry was there, the bond was there, and everybody was comfortable off the court. We have to get around each other as much as possible.”
Three games into the new season, and the Celtics were already without their two top big men heading into the game against the Knicks.
Daniel Theis, who sprained his right ankle during Friday night’s win over Toronto, was too injured to play last night, and thus joined Enes Kanter (knee bruise) in sick bay.
“Sometimes, the night it happens they check it at halftime and said he was good to go but he’d probably be in a little pain today and we didn’t want him to fly because of swelling and those other things. We’re slowly working our way towards five-less, but we’ve got a few more left.”
Robert Williams got the startagainst the Knicks’ big front line, including Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle and old friend Marcus Morris. Though Williams sometimes struggled during exhibition season, his most recent play during the Toronto game pointed to a player once again on the upswing.
“I thought he did some good things. There’s a lot to improve,” said Stevens. “But clearly better than that first exhibition game. But that’s what you’re supposed to do – go back and do the film work, determine things you can do better. But he has so much ability, especially in the defensive end, that we still need him to protect that rim as much as possible, and that’s going to be really important tonight.”
Stevens was thus forced to look at the far end of his center depth, and last night even put Fall on the active roster behind Williams and Vincent Poirier.
Poirier, who made his first NBA appearance after not leaving the bench in the first two games, has had the disadvantage of playing behind more experienced players – thus the French big man’s inactivity the first two games.
“I don’t know if he’s necessarily needed more time. I just think Theis is a little bit ahead and Rob has shown some good things at times. And they’ve both been here for a year, so I think they both have done good things and obviously Ennis has accomplished more than any of them in the NBA. Now we’re down and he’ll see some time tonight, for sure.”
Grant Williams finished the Toronto game at center with a small but quick unit, and held his own physically and mentally. The rookie will play an increasing role in the paint whenever Stevens turns to his small ball lineup – something the Celtics coach clearly prefers to do.
“He’s able to do that because of his strength. Now (the Knicks) are a bit different because these guys are built on size,” said Stevens. “They’re so strong all the way up and down their lineup so it’s a bit of a challenge from a pure physical strength standpoint. Randle gives them a lot of options because of his ability to play the four or the five, and then playing Morris at the three is tough. And let alone Barrett. Barrett’s a big, strong kid. It presents a whole new challenge. Can Grant do that again tonight? We’ll see.”
Morris has made himself right at home with the Knicks, averaging 18.5 points and shooting 6-for-10 from 3-point range in his first two games.
“Toughness. One of the things about Marcus that I would say, he’s just an easy guy to coach,” said the Celtics coach. “He’s tough, he’s a team guy, he competes, all that stuff. But what everybody see is how easy he is to be around every day and coach. He’s a guy we’re certainly fond of and he’s a heck of a player. He started off the season and the preseason really well.”