ORLANDO, Fla. — Brad Stevens came in looking for a better defensive effort, and the Celtics honored his request. The host Magic was held to just 31.3 percent shooting as the C’s took an easy 100-75 preseason victory Friday night.
Beyond that, the evening was notable for the debut of first round draft pick Romeo Langford and another festival of love for Tacko Fall, who played here the last four years collegiately for UCF. But that affection wasn’t rewarded with an on-court appearance until the last quarter. By then, the Celtics had already made their point.
As regards the evening’s overall exercise, things got out of hand pretty quickly.
The Celts scored the first 11 points, and things deteriorated even further for the Magic from there. The hosts hit just one of their first 14 shots (a D.J. Augustin drive 8:47 after tipoff) and got down by as many as 27 in the opening period.
“Ball pressure’s been our No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 thing that we’ve been emphasizing, and I thought our guys did a really good job of that tonight,” said Stevens, who didn’t like the way his defense looked in Sunday’s preseason opening win over Charlotte. “They were locked in on how to guard. And it always helps when you make a few shots. It makes you guard a little bit better, too.
“I thought we were fresher. We looked fresher than them. We should be after spending three days here. We’ve been here longer this week than they have.”
Each team was without an All-Star, and with the way things played out, the Magic missed Nikola Vucevic (ankle) more than the Celtics did Kemba Walker (knee). Marcus Smart started at the point and made four of his five 3-pointers on the way to 14 points. Jaylen Brown was again strong going to the hoop, finishing with 11 points, and Jayson Tatum led all Celt scorers with 15.
Langford, the No. 14 overall pick last June, missed summer league rehabbing from thumb surgery and missed the exhibition opener with a groin issue. He got into the game with 6:01 left in the third quarter, and less than a minute later, he made a nice hesitation in transition and cruised in for his first hoop.
“That felt good, just like old times,” Langford said. “I really didn’t get a rhythm, but it just felt good to be out there… It felt good to finally get my feet wet, getting back on the court. I had a good time. I played well.”
Said Stevens, “Romeo did a good job. He’s really smooth to the rim. He can cover a lot of ground. He can take hits and finish. It doesn’t look like he’s always expending as much energy as he is. He’s just a really good athlete, so we’re excited about him. The front office did a good job in last year’s draft. There’s no doubt about it. All those guys are good players, all four of them (Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters.”
Fall didn’t get drafted, but he’d easily win a popularity contest. After numerous “We want Tacko” chants, a couple of which were joined by Smart, Stevens directed Tatum and Marcus to tell Tacko to enter with 5:33 left in the game.
“Everybody was yelling at me,” said the coach. “I told those guys to go fix it.
“I actually told him at the (6:48) timeout, I said, ‘Hey, if it gets to five minutes (left) and you haven’t gone in yet, just come and like throw your stuff down at my face and just walk in, and then we’ll all play along.’ But we didn’t get to that. That would have been good. He’s really getting better as a basketball player, not as good of an actor yet.”
Smart laughed as he explained the move to get Fall: “He was like, ‘No, coach told me to go in at exactly the five minute mark.’ I was like, ‘He just told me to come get you, so get up. Let’s go. C’mon, get up. You’re Tacko. We ain’t Tacko. It’s you.’ So it was good to see him get out there.”
Of the Tackomania, Smart said, “We love it. We want to see him out there. We want to see him succeed, and we want to see the place erupt for him.”