NEW YORK — The New York Knicks were being blown out by double digits in their home opener, and New York fans had viciously booed Dennis Smith Jr., yet with three minutes remaining in what would be an ugly Knicks loss, the Madison Square Garden crowd was on its feet hollering with excitement.
It was garbage time, and the game’s outcome was all but decided when Fall checked in with just under four minutes left in the game. Each time Fall touched the ball, fans went wild. When he backed down a defender in the paint, the crowd cheered like it was Game 7 of the Finals.
“I don’t know if anybody not drafted in the top two or three has ever felt the kind of stuff he feels when he touches the ball,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the game.
The Celtics trounced the Knicks 118-95, and Fall finished with four points (both dunks) and three rebounds in 3 minutes, 38 seconds of playing time. Saturday’s game marked the first time in the regular season that Fall had been available to play for the Celtics.
“I just tried to keep my cool and finish up the game,” Fall said. “I just tried to do my job.”
Fall was 2-of-4 from the field on Saturday. His two misses were both hook shots — something he has been working on in practice with assistant coach Jay Larranaga.
“We work on hook shots. We work on jump shots. We even work on my 3s, which is crazy,” Fall said. “At first I was like, ‘3s?’ But now I am starting to embrace it.”
“Does this mean I should put your name in now for the 3-point contest?” a Celtics staff member joked.
“Do it!” Fall said, laughing. “I told Jay by January I might be at 50% 3-point shooting.”
Fall is largely a fan favorite because of his size. He stands at 7-foot-5 and has repeatedly made headlines because of it. His hands are enormous and engulf nearly anybody who goes for an introductory handshake.
Fall is so tall that he bumped his head on a ceiling, causing him to be placed in the league’s concussion protocol. A video of Fall receiving an enormous coat from clothing brand Canada Goose received more than 1,500 likes on Twitter. Canada Goose said it is the largest coat the company has ever made.
While Fall’s size is gawk-worthy, Stevens said he hopes the fans “appreciate him for how good of a kid he is and how hard he is working to make the NBA.”
“Everybody is yelling because of his size,” Stevens said. “I get it. Every time he walks in the room, I say, ‘Man, he’s tall’ under my breath. But at the same time, I hope people appreciate him for who he is and how hard he is working.”
Fall, who played college basketball at the University of Central Florida, went undrafted and signed with the Celtics. It isn’t just his height that is unique. He maintained a 4.0 average, and in 2015, he told Bleacher Report that if he had a choice between becoming LeBron James or Apple founder Steve Jobs, “I would be Steve Jobs.” Prior to the game, Fall conducted interviews in English and French. Still, he speaks softly and in short sentences.
“Tacko is a unique guy. He is [almost] 7-foot-6, and you don’t see that very often,” Marcus Smart said. “Tacko, he’s a little bit shy. So when they were screaming ‘Tacko!’ we all joined in. I am a big fan of Tacko.”