Celtics

Brad Stevens uncertain what Celtics' identity is at moment

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Brad Stevens uncertain what Celtics' identity is at moment

TORONTO — After Toronto Raptors first-year coach Nick Nurse suggested that he knows the identity of his team entering the final quarter of the 2018-19 regular season, the same question was put to Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens before Tuesday’s showdown north of the border.

And Stevens was noticeably careful with his response.

"I think I know what we’ve been and I know who we can be,” said Stevens. "I have a good idea. Ultimately, we’ll see if we get there. Ultimately, we’ll have to play better than we did the other night [in Chicago] to be who we want to be.”

Stevens essentially admitted that these Celtics, as they continue to endure these little blips of inconsistency, particularly against inferior competition, don’t have an identity to lean on right now.

As the team’s defensive rating has skyrocketed in February, Boston sliding from No. 2 in the season rankings to No. 5 over the past nine games, it’s clear the Celtics are not the defense-first squad that they’ve shown glimpses of when they play their best ball. 

As frustrations boil after inexcusable losses, this team has not proven itself to have the sort of mental toughness that has been Boston’s calling card in the Stevens era.

We’ve seen glimpses of who they can be, but not sustained stretches where frustrations haven’t derailed the good vibes of winning. We know how good this team can be if everything clicks.

But right now the team is still trying to figure out exactly who it wants to be.

Here’s what we do know: The Celtics tend to play up to their competition. That’s been a consistent all season. Tuesday’s game is an opportunity to prove it again and a win could go a long way towards giving the team something to build around over these final 22 games.

It’s imperative that the Celtics not only know who they are before the playoffs arrive but are playing like it as well.

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Handicapping the NBA's Eastern Conference before the 2019-20 season

Handicapping the NBA's Eastern Conference before the 2019-20 season

The Eastern Conference hasn't been easy to figure out in recent seasons, as the conference has seen some massive power shifts in each of the past two offseasons.

During the 2018 offseason, LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Los Angeles Lakers. The ensuing move left the Cavaliers as a bottom dweller in the conference while teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Toronto Raptors rose to the top. Meanwhile, the star-studded and deep Boston Celtics failed to live up to lofty expectations.

Now, the Raptors don't look as strong despite winning the 2019 NBA title. They lost Kawhi Leonard and their potential fall has created another opening atop the Eastern Conference. Will teams like the 76ers and Bucks step up into the No. 1 spot? And can a new-look Celtics squad rise up once again? The East will be unpredictable, but here's a look at the state of the conference ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

Click here for Chris Forsberg and A. Sherrod Blakely's Eastern Conference expectations>>>

Boston trims roster, Javonte Green appears to win final spot

Boston trims roster, Javonte Green appears to win final spot

The Boston Celtics waived Max Strus, Kaiser Gates, and Yante Maten on Saturday, trimming their roster to the regular-season limit of 17.

With the moves, summer league standout Javonte Green appears to have clinched the team’s 15th roster spot. Gates and Maten will have a chance to latch on with the Maine Red Claws as affiliated players after they clear waivers.

The Celtics signed Strus to a 2-way deal after he went undrafted then promoted him to the 15-man roster earlier this week on a partially guaranteed deal. That opened a 2-way slot to sign 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall.

Strus played well late in the exhibition slate and made 5 of his 12 3-point attempts overall. The combination of Fall’s potential and his popularity forced the team to maneuver. With help from his springy hops, Green made 16 of his 20 shots in the preseason and showed an ability to be an aggressive perimeter defender, helping him edge Strus in the competition for the final spot on the parent roster.

The Celtics open the regular season on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

FORSBERG: What does Pascal Siakam's deal mean for Jaylen Brown?>>>

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