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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