Before Friday night’s win against the Wizards, it was unclear whether Tacko Fall would survive the Celtics 'season on a two-way contract. What had started as a feel-good phenomenon last season with Fall serving as a victory cigar during garbage time in between games with the Maine Red Claws, had started to shift in year two. In his appearances during this abbreviated preseason, Fall looked like he had a very long way to go to develop into a reliable NBA player. The height was tantalizing but his inability to maximize it on both sides of the court was concerning. For a Celtics team that lacked some pretty important holes in the rotation during the first couple months of the season due to injuries and free-agent departures, I openly wondered whether Fall would be kept around as a fifth-string center if more pressing roster needs materialized amid a challenging start tot he year.
Those needs did surface this Friday night but they also involved Fall’s own position. With Grant Williams, Rob Williams and Tristan Thompson out due to health and safety protocols, Fall quickly catapulted to the top big off the bench on the depth chart. Once Semi Ojeleye (a potential small-ball center) was inserted into the starting five at power forward against the Wizards, Brad Stevens made his rotation decision clear: Fall was going to get an opportunity against Washington for some of the most meaningful minutes of his career.
Fall responded with a better game than Stevens or any members of the coaching staff could have realistically hoped for. Instead of the Celtics ‘surviving’ Tacko minutes, the team turned to him in the fourth quarter to help put a stop to a 21-4 Wizards run. When all was said and done, Fall delivered 4 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks in his 19 minutes, along with a plus-13 mark that accurately represented his impact throughout Boston’s nine-point win.
It started from his first defensive possession of the night. Against a Wizards team with 3-point shooting threats everywhere, the Celtics elected to maximize Fall’s presence at the rim with a 2-3 zone defense. Russell Westbrook immediately decided to test the biggest man in the NBA and Fall met the athletic point guard at the point of attack.
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 9, 2021
The rejection led to a transition 3 for Jaylen Brown, which kicked off a 9-0 run for the Celtics. Boston never trailed for the final 42 minutes of the game after that initial outburst, with Fall serving as a useful piece during some of the Celtics’ best stretches of basketball during the night.
“I thought he was great tonight,” Stevens said. “In a lot of ways he changed the game. When he came in in the first quarter it was back and forth. One of the things we’re missing without those guys here is some physicality, some rim protection. He provided both of those things in a big way.”
Two of Fall’s three blocks led directly to