Tacko Fall rises to the occasion in home debut with Maine Red Claws

A. Sherrod Blakely

PORTLAND, MAINE -- The fans came in waves, some going straight to their seats while others stopped by the nearby concession stand to pick up a snack, a drink, and maybe a Tacko Fall jersey.

And when Tacko made his way to the floor before tip-off, "Wow! He's really tall!" was uttered by a few - OK, quite a few - folks who were laying eyes on the 7-foot-7 center for the first time in person. 

There were others in the stands dressed in taco-themed outfits, paying homage to the man of the night in Maine, Tacko Fall. 

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"This is Tacko, Maine," quipped Red Claws guard Trey Davis. 

There was an undeniable buzz at the Portland Expo Building on Friday night, and the presence of Tacko Fall had a lot to do with it. 

And to his credit he did not disappoint, tallying a double-double in Maine's 103-100 win over the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants (0-3) in the team's home opener.

Tacko played just over 27 minutes for the Red Claws (2-0) and finished with 16 points along with game-highs in rebounds (13) and - no surprise here - blocked shots (6). 

Before the game, Tacko talked about having spent more time working on his touch around the rim which is surprising when you consider he is the NCAA career leader in field goal percentage (.740). 

But most of those baskets in college came on dunks which is no surprise considering Tacko's 7-7 frame. 

However, NBA teams aren't going to be as easy to dunk on as the guys in college, so the idea of being able to score around the rim without dunking can only be an asset to Tacko going forward. 

The work he put in along those lines paid off on Friday night as Tacko mixed in short shots near the rim with his usual assortment of point-blank dunks. 

He also showed better movement defensively and better timing in terms of when to attempt to block shots and when to "show" as though he's looking for another swat but elects to not go for the block.

The caliber of competition certainly has to be factored into Tacko's play. 

But there was no getting around the fact that Tacko was a better player in every phase of his game, compared to what we saw in summer league and during preseason.

Red Claws head coach Darren Erman has been with the Celtics all season and has seen first-hand the progress made by Tacko whose impact on Friday's outcome was undeniable particularly on defense. 

"Tacko was great in pick-and-roll," Erman said. "He really protected the rim. He was really good at it and bailed us out defensively a lot."

While Maine led for most of the night, the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants were able to cut the Red Claws' lead down to single digits early in the fourth quarter, only for Tacko to put them back up by double digits with a dunk that made it an 82-72 game with about 10 minutes to play. 

Tacko's size alone makes him a force defensively.

But on Friday, he showed that he could be a contributor on offense, too. Tacko's presence also forced the Mad Ants to pay closer attention to Tacko when he was on the floor, something that opened things up for Tacko's teammates.

"Tacko played great," said Tremont Waters who had 17 points to go with seven assists. "He ran the floor, finished when he got the ball; did a great job of protecting the rim. It's so much easier playing with someone who's standing at the rim and can pretty much block anything. There's no sneaky, quick finishes that guards can get off."

Not that they didn't try mind you, only to find that Waters' assessment of Tacko's rim protection was legit. 

Tacko's presence on the floor was huge, much like the attention and adulation he has received from Crustacean Nation. 

Tacko said he stepped on the floor around 4:30 p.m. and was pleasantly surprised by the large - and very loud - fan base that was already at the game. 

"It just shows how much they love the Red Claws around here," Tacko said. "They support the team and we appreciate it."

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Tacko Fall rises to the occasion in home debut with Maine Red Claws originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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