At the time, their March 4 on-court altercation in Oklahoma City was downplayed and said to be blown out of portion by the media.
But on Monday, 76ers point guard Michael Carter-Williams and coach Brett Brown conceded that their back-and-forth was a turning point in the rookie's maturation.
Carter-Williams was named the NBA's rookie of the year on Monday. He received 104 of 124 first-place votes from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters to beat Orlando guard Victor Oladipo and Utah point guard Trey Burke in a landslide.
Carter-Williams finished with 569 points. Oladipo received 16 first-place votes and finished with 364 points. Burke (one first-place vote) finished third with 96 points.
Brooklyn center Mason Plumlee (two first-place votes, 58 points) and New York guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (one first-place vote, 23 points) rounded out the top five.
"I stuck into him at Oklahoma City and said, 'Michael, you have to play better defense. You have to keep the game in front of you,' " Brown recalled at the award presentation at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "And through all of those situations, I see the evolution of a point guard being born. He allowed our coaching staff to coach him."
However, at that moment Carter-Williams showed a lack of composure in a humbling 125-92 loss to the Thunder.
With 5 minutes, 29 seconds remaining, Oklahoma City guard Jeremy Lamb blew past the 6-foot-6, 185-pounder for an easy layup. Brown immediately got on his point guard. Carter-Williams, in turn, gestured back at his coach.
Moments later, Brown called the rookie over for a talk. Carter-Williams looked disturbed. He even stepped away from Brown toward the court before the two resumed their discussion.
"I think that made our relationship closer," said Carter-Williams, who became just the second rookie of the year for the Sixers, joining Allen Iverson (1996-97). "I think it brought a lot out of me, myself.
"In the beginning of the year, I'm thinking I'm playing good defense. I'm like, 'Coach I'm leading the league is steals. How can I play any better defense?' "
But after breaking down his defensive tape, the 22-year-old began to take Brown's challenges personally.
"I tried to do everything in my power to get better on defense," Carter-Williams said. "Coach is looking at me every single possession. If someone goes by me, I may get a little look at coach: Oh, man, I know it's coming."
From that point on, the game appeared to slow down for the 11th overall pick out of Syracuse. He played better defense, shot a higher percentage, and became the unquestioned team leader.
Carter-Williams posted one of the best campaigns by a first-year player in league history. It was a season in which he was mentioned in the same breath as Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.
The Sixers star led all rookies in scoring (16.7 points per game), assists (6.3), rebounds (6.2), and steals (1.86). He joined Robertson (1960-61) and Alvan Adams (1975-76) as the only players to lead all rookies in scoring, assists, and rebounds in a season, dating back to 1950-51.
Carter-Williams also joined Robertson and Johnson (1979-80) as the only rookies to average at least 16.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists.
"Oscar and Magic did it at such a high level," Carter-Williams said. "If I could even come close to their footsteps, that would be an honor."
The native of Hamilton, Mass., was named Eastern Conference rookie of the month four times. Carter-Williams finished the season with 16 double-doubles and two triple-doubles.
Accepting the award, Carter-Williams thanked God, his family, general manager Sam Hinkie, the team's owners, his agent, the coaching staff and the fans for their support.
But he took a moment to single out Brown.
"He's been unbelievable for me," Carter-Williams said. "I'm not a person that really trusts a lot of people. My circle is really close, especially when it comes to basketball. . . . I have a lot of trust in Coach just from going through this whole year, him really being on my back about every little thing, on the court and off the court. I really look up to him and appreciate what he does every single day."