Coming into the 2018-19 NBA season, only the Warriors and Rockets really rivaled the Celtics in terms of talent. This was made even more apparent after the team, missing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, came within one game of advancing to the 2018 Finals.
But the team stumbled out of the gate this season, which according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, led to a heated bench exchange between Irving and coach Brad Stevens during a November game against Dallas. According to the report, the moment provided some much needed catharsis for the Celtics' star player:
A loss in Dallas on Nov. 24 was compounded by the first signs of frustration when Irving had a heated moment on the bench in which he directed words toward coach Brad Stevens and others, league sources told The Athletic. It was after the coaching staff’s feedback over a turnover on a previous play, according to sources, when Irving finally responded, had an emotional exchange and let out some bottled up frustration.
The incident did not get personal, according to witnesses. Irving and Stevens are known to have a close relationship, which Irving has credited as part of the reason he has committed long-term to Boston. It is not unusual for a star player and his team to have these types of blow-ups, but it needed to occur and came during a notable turning point early in this Celtics season.
With Irving's blessing, Stevens moved Hayward to the bench (he's remained a shell of his former all-star self following last season's brutal ankle injury) and started Marcus Smart in his stead. On top of that, Marcus Morris has been starting in place of a plateauing Jaylen Brown. The results speak for themselves.
After winning eight straight following the kerfuffle between Kyrie and Stevens, they lost three and then righted themselves again to win their last two, including a thrilling overtime win over Eastern rivals, the 76ers, on Christmas Day.
Kyrie has said he's with Boston for the long haul, despite being a free agent this summer. According The Athletic and other outlets, Irving's relationship with Stevens, including the trust to sometimes snap at each other when they disagree, plays a significant factor in that decision.