Wizards Unable to Break Through Boston's Hard-Shell Tacko at the Rim
The Boston Celtics were left with an extremely thin frontcourt Friday night, after Tristan Thompson, Grant Williams and Robert Williams were all ruled out of their matchup with the Washington Wizards due to “health and safety protocol.” However, the absences of those three big men carried a silver lining: it was finally time for the biggest man of all to earn his opportunity.
For the first time in his career, Tacko Fall was called upon to handle a significant role. And the 7-foot-5 gentle giant sure did deliver.
Splitting center duties with Daniel Theis, Fall gave the Celtics 19 solid minutes off the bench, producing career-highs of eight rebounds and three blocked shots, to go along with four points on 2-of-3 shooting (aka dunking) from the field. He also played a hefty portion of the fourth quarter, helping the Celtics to ward off Washington’s late comeback attempt before holding on for a 116-107 win.
“I thought he was great tonight,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Fall after the game. “In a lot of ways he changed the game.”
Fall changed the game through his physicality and rim protection, proving to be more of a hard-shell Tacko than a soft-shell Tacko. And he proved it as soon as he entered the game.
Just twelve seconds after checking in midway through the first quarter, Fall delivered the greatest highlight of his career, stuffing a driving dunk attempt by former league MVP Russell Westbrook with ease. It wound up being the first of three blocks for Fall during his first six minutes of action.
Initially, Stevens wasn’t planning on playing Fall too much, considering how he had only played a total of six minutes through Boston’s first nine games. But once the coach saw how Fall was impacting the matchup, he just couldn’t sub him out.
“[He looked] really good for a guy that hasn't played much,” Stevens said. “You saw we subbed him in early. I was planning on going four-minute stints instead of longer than that, kind of rotating Theis in three times in a half. But I thought Tacko was too good to take out on a couple of occasions.”
Fall’s teammates were also benefitting from his presence, as the C’s outscored Washington by 13 points during his 19 minutes of playing time.
“I thought he brought great energy,” said fellow reserve Payton Pritchard. “He totally changed the game. They really had to make tough shots over him, and he blocked a lot or changed their shot, and big props to him.”
“He stayed ready, and he's always working,” added the rookie point guard. “And his growth is just going to keep getting better and better.”
Fall believes that having such a consistent work ethic is what allowed him to shine during this moment.
“I’m constantly working,” Fall said. “I’m working on my speed, working on my stamina, making sure the game is not too fast for me, which, the game has slowed down a lot, which has made my job a lot easier. I can see things that maybe a year ago I couldn’t see. I can anticipate things maybe a year ago I couldn’t anticipate. It all comes down to the work I’ve put in with the help of the coaches.”
Fall’s teammates have been taking notice of all of his hard work, and so they believe that Friday’s performance was no fluke.
“He’s ready, as you’ve seen today,” said Jaylen Brown, who stuffed the stat sheet with 27 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, and two steals. “He came out, had a great game for us, defended, protected the rim, did everything we asked for, and that was just his first game. I think it’s only going to get better the more opportunity he gets.”