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James Young, R.J. Hunter battle for final roster spot 10.18.16 at 2:13 pm ET
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Oct 17, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard R.J. Hunter (28) controls the ball while Brooklyn Nets guard Bojan Bogdanovic (44) defends during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

R.J. Hunter and James Young will have one more chance to strengthen their case for final Celtics roster spot (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

With one final exhibition game left on the schedule, the battle for the last roster spot has intensified. James Young and R.J. Hunter figure to be battling it out to the end. 

The Celtics have until the end of the week to determine who will fill out the back end of their 15-man roster and Young and Hunter have both made strong cases for themselves in their last two games.

Hunter, who has made the strongest statistical case of the two, scored a game-high 17 points against the Knicks on Saturday, capping off an impressive shooting performance. He scored 6-of-8 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from deep and not only knocked down open jumpers but made strong takes to the rim and got to the free-throw line. 

Young, on the other hand, followed up Saturday night’s Celtics win with his best performance of the preseason Monday night.

It may not have been as flashy as Hunter’s 17 points at Madison Square Garden, but Young (10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, one steal) was able to make the most of his 16 minutes by stuffing the stat sheet in the win over the Nets at TD Garden.

He also looked a lot more comfortable on the floor, compared to the beginning of the preseason. 

“I’m way more confident in my game,” Young explained. “A lot of people are backing me up to just go and be aggressive, so that’s really helped me.

“I’m just trying to do a little of everything — scoring, rebounding, passing, and not to do too much at the same time. Whatever coach has drawn up for me I just do it and help out the team.”

Both Young and Hunter are scoring at a similar rate — making the choice between the two very difficult. Throughout the preseason, Young has averaged 5.1 points, 3 rebounds and shooting 45 percent from the floor in 15 minutes per game. While Hunter is averaging 6.1 points, 1.5 assists and shooting 44 percent from the floor.

However, Young has been an efficient 3-point scorer, shooting at a 42 percent clip, whereas Hunter — recognized as a precise 3-point shooter — is shooting 27 percent from downtown.  

Brad Stevens has certainly noticed the improvement, thus making the decision of cutting one of the two that much harder.

“They all really had good moments,” Stevens said. “As I said before the game, those are hard decisions because everybody’s improved. I thought they all played well at times.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, James Young, R.J. Hunter,
Isaiah Thomas puts up 19 points in 15 minutes as Celtics run through Nets 10.17.16 at 9:51 pm ET
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(Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

(Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The time remaining for the Celtics to tune up for the season is running thin — but they’re already looking to be in midseason form. Playing the same Nets team they will see in nine days on opening night, the Celtics ran through Brooklyn 120-99.

It only took 15 points for Isaiah Thomas to drop 19 points on the flimsy Nets defense. The point guard cruised into the paint — oftentimes untouched — en route to a perfect 6-for-6 from the field including a 3-pointer, as he played exclusively in the first half. 

“The lane was just open, I guess. Teammates just put me in position to try and be a little more aggressive for myself. I haven’t been that way this preseason yet. But teammates got me the ball in the right spots and I just did what I do, I guess,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ pace throughout his time on the floor was contagious and apparent from the onset, as halfway through the first period the Celtics surged to a 14-to-2 run that put them up by 13 points.

“We’ve been playing a lot better, things are slowing down for us,” Thomas said. “For the most part we’re getting there, we’re ready for the regular season to start so things can count, but we’re still working.”

The Celtics were playing with a regular season tempo that left the Nets visibly overwhelmed and outmatched. Though passing wasn’t as precise as it could have been at times, overall the Celtics transition game was quick and largely effective.

The bench didn’t make upcoming roster decisions for Brad Stevens much easier, as each player coming on demonstrated quite a bit of value in one form or another. The shooting stroke that James Young has struggled to consistently find was present on multiple occasions. R.J. Hunter continued to shoot the ball well from the perimeter. Demetrius Jackson grabbed the hustle play of the preseason, grabbing a steal and finishing it with a layup off an inbound pass following a Celtics basket, forcing the Nets to take a timeout from sheer frustration. 

“I thought they all had really good moments,” Stevens said. “I thought they all played well at times, and certainly we gave up some baskets in transition, we did some things we’d like to do better throughout the course of the night, not throwing the ball to the other team as a team. But that’s across the board, that’s not just young, that’s young and old.

“But everybody showed as they have the whole time that they continue to improve, which is a good thing.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown,
Celtics pregame notes: No final decisions have been made on roster spots 10.17.16 at 6:18 pm ET
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Demetrius Jackson

Demetrius Jackson

Since the Celtics rounded out their roster in September — complete with 16 guaranteed contracts and only 15 roster spots — the speculation has been near-constant as to who will be in and who will be out.

But with just one more preseason game and the first game of the regular season just over a week away, no final decisions have been made on the roster.

“We haven’t talked about any of that stuff, so I’m sure I’ll sit down with Danny [Ainge] at some point, but obviously we have 16 [contracts] and you can only carry 15,”  Celtics coach Brad Stevens said prior to Monday’s preseason tilt against the Nets. “It’s the unfortunate part of the business, but we haven’t talked in great depth about that. But I’m sure we’ll hit that in the next couple of days.

“Obviously we have conversations all the time, but we have not gotten to the point where we’re talking finality on anybody in large part because everybody has played very well or shown great strides.”

One player that has shown promise is guard Demetrius Jackson. In four games this preseason, the rookie out of Notre Dame has shot 7-for-14 from the field, as well as 4-for-6 from 3-point range, averaging 5.3 points per game. He’s helped run the offense as well, as he’s grabbed eight assists in his cumulative 38 minutes.

“I think he’s done a good job. You know it’s hard to sit for three quarters and play in the fourth, but I thought the other night he came in, handled the ball, made the right plays,” said Stevens. “His burst is pretty special, and he can go from zero to 60 in a heartbeat. He’s making shot and he’s doing a pretty good job of running that group when he comes in. So I’ve been impressed with him thus far.”

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Demetrius Jackson, Kelly Olynyk,
R.J. Hunter (17 points), Celtics’ impressive shooting tops Knicks at Madison Square Garden 10.15.16 at 10:18 pm ET
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R.J. Hunter

R.J. Hunter

In what didn’t feel like a preseason matchup, the Celtics offense erupted by scoring 119 points in the team’s final road game before the regular season.

The Celtics shot nearly 60 percent (58.9) from the floor en route to a 119-107 win over the Knicks.

After the Celtics held to a double-digit lead for most of the game, the Knicks cut the margin to one point (98-97) before R.J. Hunter went off in the fourth quarter, when he scored most of his game-high 17 points on 6-of-8 shots, including 2-of-4 from deep. 

Horford caught fire early as he knocked down his first five attempts in the first half — including back-to-back 3-pointers — and finished with 12 points and two blocks. Avery Bradley’s 15 points on 7-of-9 shots led the Celtics’ first-half surge. Both starters led the offense and helped the C’s take a 59-50 lead into the half. 

After the break, Marcus Smart (13 points, 3 steals) carried the momentum while most of the starters cheered from the bench. So far, Smart is shooting 70 percent (14-of-20) from inside the 3-point arc throughout the preseason. He may not be knocking down shots from deep but he’s been very consistent from the mid-range and continues to be a force on defense. 

For a full box score, click here

In what was a regular season-like atmosphere at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks erased their double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter before the Celtics put together a late-game run to close out the win and silence the raucous New York crowd. Horford’s presence continues to impact the Celtics’ offense as their best shooter in Bradley had plenty of opportunities to knock down open shots against the Knicks.

Horford and Bradley’s great shooting and strong defense — one that forced 20 Knicks turnovers — set the tone on both ends of the floor as the C’s dominated throughout most of the game. 

Hunter — who’s believed to be on the bubble for making the team’s final 16-man roster — certainly made a case for himself in what may have been his best outing as a member of the Celtics. The second-year guard not only knocked down a pair of 3-pointers but also drove against the defense, got to the hoop and to the free-throw line. 

The Celtics will close out their preseason schedule with a pair of home games this week on Monday against the Nets and Wednesday against the Knicks. 

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Celtics’ 10-man rotation set to create some odd men out 10.15.16 at 12:15 pm ET
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Celtics guard Terry Rozier looks to take a step forward this year and crack Brad Stevens' 10-man rotation. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Terry Rozier looks to take a step forward this year and crack head coach Brad Stevens’ 10-man rotation. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Prior to Thursday night’s game, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens made an announcement that wasn’t so much surprising, rather thought-provoking. 

“Ten (players) is what we usually play at the start of the season,” Stevens said. “It could be eight to ten, nine to ten.”

“Anytime you can get to a solid eight or nine in a rotation, that’s beneficial.”

That is conceivably going to leave a valuable asset out of the rotation. With his starting lineup of Al Horford, Amir Johnson, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas all but in ink, there would be two to four players vying for minutes.

Marcus Smart will also be a lock as the first man off the bench — as Stevens has often referred to him as a “sixth starter.” Once healthy, Kelly Olynyk will likely be in the same situation.

There is some fluidity after that, however.

Stevens did note that his rotation can, and likely will, change on a game-to-game basis.

“We have to have everybody ready to go,” said Stevens who added, “and some days it’ll be a solid eight plus 2 (players) but that plus 2 may change game to game depending on who we’re playing, how they played against them, how they played in practice, how they played the game before.”

With the summer league and preseason that Terry Rozier has had, reasonable minds can believe he would be in the rotation. However, ball handling and distribution are two things you could essentially get out of Smart, plus he would provide better defense. In an event where the Celtics are going to need to attempt to matchup in height with opposing teams, Rozier could see himself squeezed out of the rotation. 

Then there’s Jaylen Brown. The rookie is a fascinating case because if he’s not going to be in the rotation, then he would be better suited playing in the D-League, which is not exactly the best PR move for a team’s No. 3 pick in the draft. That aside, however, he’s proven that his game has translated well to the NBA and the Celtics could definitely use his athleticism.

Jonas Jerebko is a perplexing case as well. Seemingly every time he appears to be falling out of Stevens’ good graces, he pops a 12-point performance off the bench, as he did Thursday (and lest we forget the 2016 postseason, as well). His problem, however, is that he’ll be more or less absent for stretches, and when his shot from 15-to 18-feet is off, he can render himself useless on the offensive end.

Bottom line, Stevens knows what he’s getting with Jerebko. He doesn’t have to worry about developing him, he’s a slightly above-average defender, who has a shot that can be lethal when it’s on. It’s hard to imagine him being phased out of the rotation — especially early on in the season — but it’s a legitimate possibility if he hits a cold streak.

Another veteran in a precarious position is Gerald Green. Green didn’t even see the floor until about five and a half minutes remained in the third quarter Thursday. There are too many enticing options at Stevens’ disposal to allow Green to get meaningful minutes. Conversely, he posesses one of the biggest tools the Celtics as a whole lack: a shot. However, he’s yet to exhibit any reliability as a shooter in his two preseason appearances, going a combined 0-for-4 from deep. He’s otherwise 9-from-20 from the field. He is the type of player destined to be the first man out, especially when his shot is cold.

Tyler Zeller hasn’t exactly had a camp to remember thus far. And with his history of fluctuating minutes, it already looks as if he’s destined for the same scenario as 2015-16, where he could be playing three minutes one night, but 18 the other. 

One player that is making more of a case for himself is Jordan Mickey. A big leader in the late surge that pushed the Celtics bench past the Nets on Thursday, Mickey has started to look much more acclimated to the NBA than last year, even after tearing up the D-League. He may be an afterthought to start the season, but the amount of meaningful minutes he may get could certainly increase.

It should all come down to matchups. Stevens isn’t afraid to play small, and there is enough diversity in skill amongst bench players to where he has a quality arsenal to work with. As camp continues and more players begin to establish — or hurt — their value, the rotation should begin to take more of a shape, with some understandable flexibility taking place as well.

Read More: Gerald Green, Jaylen Brown, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Mickey
Al Horford (13 pts, 9 rebs), late surge from Jordan Mickey, bench put Celtics over Nets 10.13.16 at 10:05 pm ET
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Oct 13, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez 911) defends against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) as he goes up for a shot during a preseason game during the first half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Nets center Brook Lopez defends against Celtics guard Marcus Smart during Thursday’s preseason game in Brooklyn. (Andy Marlin/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics are set to become quite familiar with the Nets, with three matchups against Brooklyn in the next two weeks, one of which is the season opener on Oct. 26.

In the first of those three matchups Thursday in Brooklyn, a late surge sent the Celtics to victory, 100-97. Led by the unassuming five of Gerald Green, Jordan Mickey, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and R.J. Hunter, the C’s finagled a 6-0 run at the end of the game to grind out the victory.

Al Horford nearly had a double-double, finishing with nine rebounds to accompany his 13 points. Isaiah Thomas and Jonas Jerebko turned in 12-point performances. 

For a full box score, click here

The game had a more regular-season feel to it for a number of reasons. In his pregame press conference, coach Brad Stevens discussed that his rotation come the start of the season would be an “eight-plus-two” scenario, making time off the bench all the more difficult to grab.

As it turned out, just 10 players took the floor for the Celtics for the first 30-plus minutes of the game, with Green being one of the noticeable omissions up until that point.

Those who did see time, however, played with regular-season intensity.

The ball oftentimes was on the floor, with bodies in both green and white jerseys sprawled across the hardwood in attempt to maintain possession. Passing was in midseason form, as it was by and large crisp, quick and accurate. 

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Celtics Practice Report: Amir Johnson looking to diversify his game 10.13.16 at 11:11 am ET
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Amir Johnson

Amir Johnson

Expect to see Amir Johnson changing things up this season.

When the Celtics went out and signed Al Horford, the laundry list of things he brought to the table were apparent, but one thing that flew under the radar was how he can help other players. And just over two weeks into camp, he’s already found a way to make fellow starter and big man Amir Johnson better.

“Chemistry is great, you know, it’s just me working around Al, Al working around me and we’re just putting it together,” the 29-year-old Johnson said.

The now-12-year pro noted that one dimension of his game that he is looking to improve is his 3-point shot. Last season, Johnson pulled from deep 43 times, executing on just 10 occasions for a 23.3 percent 3-point percentage, well below his career average of 31.5 percent from deep.

But with the addition of Horford, who can already do it all, it provides Johnson the flexibility to test his shot.

“Guys are starting to step out to that 3-pointer, and guys are definitely guarding outside the 3-point line, so it definitely changes in that aspect there,” Johnson said. “Every big man wants to step out and shoot the 3 and handle the ball, but now guys are working on it.”

With a player like Johnson implementing a 3-point shot more into his game, it can also have a less clear benefit. Regardless of if the shot gets knocked down, if Johnson is able to lure an equally-tall defender out to the perimeter, it gives a natural rim-protector like Horford a chance to isolate and grab the offensive board.

But whether Johnson is shooting or not, Horford’s versatility makes his life a lot easier.

“Al’s definitely one of those versatile bigs, able to pass the ball, step out and shoot the shot. For me it just kind of makes it easier just to work around him because you know he can the pass, you know he can make the shot,” Johnson said.

The synergy between the two is helping Johnson on the other end of the court as well.

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