Mazz: What Kyrie Irving and Brad Stevens can learn from Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers

Dec 19, 2018; Boston, MA: Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving talks with head coach Brad Stevens during the second half against the Phoenix Suns at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)
Kyrie Irving talks with head coach Brad Stevens during the second half against the Phoenix Suns at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

OK, time to state the obvious: Kyrie Irving doesn’t know how to lead.

But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

Just two days after publicly venting his frustrations at his coach and teammates, Irving got back on defense last night prior to the Celtics’ 109-102 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, a game in which the Celtics allowed 44 points in the third quarter and trailed by as many as 27 points. In what effectively served as an apology – "Sometimes I may come off and say things — never to question my teammates in public like that ever again, but I just want to win so bad," he told reporters – Irving tried to explain the behavior that came following Saturday’s loss to Orlando.

Here’s a tip to Kyrie going forward: put a sock in it. Stop talking like LeBron and start acting like Kevin Garnett. Love Garnett or hate, but if he was – for argument’s sake – half the player that King James is, he was also twice the leader. What Irving misses about James is that LeBron might be the best player in the world right now, but he hasn’t won as much as he should have.

Earth to Kyrie: you wanted out of Cleveland because LeBron too often acted like an egomaniacal, self-centered jerk. So now you’re in Boston and you’re going to do the same thing? Well that’s just dumb.

Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics congratulates teammate Paul Pierce during a game against the Sacramento Kings on January 30, 2013 at TD Garden. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

That said, let’s examine the mechanics of Brad Stevens’ game-ending play on Saturday, a turnaround jumper by Jayson Tatum that bounced off the rim. Was it a horrible shot? No. But there are times in an NBA game when the coach’s job is to get the ball in the hands of his best player and get out of the way. We’re not at Butler anymore, Toto. The Xs and Os only get you so far.

Know how many points the Celtics scored in the fourth quarter on Saturday? Twenty-six. Of the final 19, Irving scored 15 of them. Ten years ago, had the Celtics needed a bucket on the final play, Doc Rivers would have given the ball to Paul Pierce, who would have dribbled to right elbow – his sweet spot – and shot a jumper. No one on the team would bitch about it, make or miss.

The problem with these Celtics? They don’t have a hierarchy or a clear “go-to” guy, something Charles Barkley alluded to after last week’s loss at Miami. But of course, they do. Stevens just needs to clarify all of that, for the benefit of his star player and everyone else.

Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving and head coach Brad Stevens. -Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images
Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving and head coach Brad Stevens. -Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Look, let’s make something clear. In terms of Xs and Os, Stevens can coach the socks off Rivers. That’s not the point. But when it came to handling his egos and personalities, Rivers was far better. Star players in the NBA need to be coddled and stroked. It is what it is. And the sooner Brad Stevens starts doing that, the sooner the coach becomes the leader the 2018-19 Celtics desperately need.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.