While the Boston Celtics' season has been tumultuous at times, point guard Kyrie Irving told reporters Wednesday that his relationship with head coach Brad Stevens has continued to evolve in positive ways:
"Our relationship has just grown tremendously. Just in terms of our communications of what he likes and what I like, but ultimately what's best for our team and how you get the most out of guys. So it's made my job a lot easier, going to the sideline knowing that, ya know, we're on the same page. And it makes it easier to go out there and play free and really do my job of leading this team."
After losing four straight games in March, the Celtics have shown life recently, winning four of their last five, including two straight wins over the Miami Heat.
Irving, 27, is averaging 23.9 points, 7.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game, serving as the offensive focal point. But there have been questions about Irving's leadership and defense, and some wondered whether the Celtics—who reached the Eastern Conference Finals without him last season—might be a better overall team without him.
Of course, Stevens and general manager Danny Ainge don't buy that theory.
Stevens dismissed the idea when speaking to the media in February:
"We need Kyrie to be the best version of ourselves. We all need to consistently play better as a group. We've done that at times, and we've rode Kyrie in a lot of cases and he's carried us in a lot of games. We need everybody at their fullest and there's no question about it that he's going to be a guy that is going to make a ton of plays for us moving forward."
Later that month, in an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher and Rich, Ainge called the notion that the Celtics are better without Irving "insane" (h/t Mike Cole of NESN.com).
"First of all, guys like playing with Kyrie," he added. "Second of all, they believe and trust in him. And third is you still have to play hard, you still have to do your job, and that's on them."
For the Celtics, finding the right chemistry has been a yearlong struggle in a season that hasn't lived up to expectations. But they can put that tumult behind them with a long run in the Eastern Conference postseason.
If nothing else, Irving and Stevens appear to be heading into the playoffs on the same page.