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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NBA Rumors: Cavs would 'gladly' trade for Gordon Hayward if available

NBA Rumors: Cavs would 'gladly' trade for Gordon Hayward if available

The Boston Celtics are focused on the 2019 playoffs. But the NBA's lottery teams already are looking ahead to this summer, and it appears the Cleveland Cavaliers are keeping tabs on one of Boston's prized assets.

Cavs general manager Koby Altman confirmed last Friday his team already has fielded calls for veteran guard J.R. Smith, whose unique contract -- only $3.8 million guaranteed of the $15.7 million he's technically owed next season -- could provide another club with valuable cap flexibility.

In an article published Wednesday, Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor listed the Celtics as one of the Cavs' 10 potential trade partners in a Smith deal, citing Cleveland's interest in former All-Star Gordon Hayward.

The Cavs would gladly take the polarizing Hayward, who was an All-Star in Utah before his horrific leg injury. He would be the main prize, the exception to Cleveland demanding a draft pick or ascending player on a rookie deal. Hayward is healthy now and will have a full off-season to try to regain his old form, possibly giving the Cavs another piece to accelerate their timeline. Put Hayward, 29, alongside Kevin Love, Collin Sexton and the duo added in Round One and suddenly Cleveland has the look of a playoff team.

Fedor notes the only way Boston would consider dealing Hayward is if things went awry this summer. If Kyrie Irving bolts in free agency and the C's lose out on Anthony Davis, Danny Ainge could look to unload the maximum contracts of Hayward and Al Horford to do a mini-rebuild around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

If Irving stays, though, don't expect Hayward to go anywhere. Ainge acquired the 29-year-old to be a key contributor on a title-contending Boston team, and Hayward has shown encouraging signs he can still be that player after his October 2018 leg injury (suffered in Cleveland, ironically).

The Celtics have bigger fish to fry as they aim to dispatch the Indiana Pacers in the first round. But here's another reminder that if Boston bows out early, things could get very, very interesting this offseason.

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Breakfast Pod: Bruins and Celtics come away with big playoff victories

Breakfast Pod: Bruins and Celtics come away with big playoff victories

A Game 2 victory for the Celtics over the Pacers sends Boston to Indy up, 2-0; a Game 4 win for the Bruins in Toronto sends them home with their series tied at 2.

1:10:  Kyle Draper and Brian Scalabrine break down the Celtics huge 4th quarter in their 99-91 win over the Pacers in Game 2 and we hear from Jayson Tatum after the game.

6:41: Then we have the Bruins, who took a pivotal Game 4 up in Toronto, 6-4. Michael Felger and Tony Amonte discuss David Pastrnak’s two-goal performance and what else contributed to the win.

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