BOSTON — Giannis Antetokounmpo looks like a Marvel Comics sketch come to life.

He’s about 80 percent legs and arms with muscles that are almost too defined. Frozen in time, his action photos almost don’t look right, but in motion he is the very definition of awesome. Everything about him is exaggerated in a way that just works perfectly.

He is probably this year’s MVP. And the Boston Celtics have to figure out a way to stop him.

“Easier said than done,” Brad Stevens said after being asked what Boston can do about guarding Antetokounmpo. “We’ll have to change up how we’re guarding him the whole time.”

Any story about defending Giannis has to start with this simple fact: No one is stopping him. It’s like asking someone to stand on the highway an catch an oncoming truck.

“I think the emphasis is to load to the ball when it’s coming,” Marcus Morris told MassLive. “Obviously you have to. One player cannot guard him in transition. He’s picking the ball up at the 3-point line and stepping around you. The length is ridiculous so you gotta have some emphasis of guys pulling in and mucking up the floor and showing him different looks.”

If Antetokounmpo is the runaway truck, Morris is one option the Celtics will try to throw in front of him in an effort to slow him down. As if that job isn’t hard enough, it’s a job that got tougher since last year’s playoffs where Giannis was basically unstoppable.

“Giannis’ improvement is as high as anybody’s,” Stevens said. “That’s one of the things about the best players in this league probably improve at a higher rate than everybody else because they have to do so much and they have to see so many types of defenses. He’s special.”

Antetokounmpo shot a career best 57.8 percent from the field, and that includes his 25.6 percent from 3. His 64.4 true shooting percentage is a career high, as are his rebounding and assist percentages.

“I just think he’s improved overall,” Stevens said. “Obviously he’s improved as a shooter. He’s just going to get better. That guy’s a worker. He’s got all the intangibles that scream he’s going to get better and he’s already an MVP. So, like, just, he’s really good.”

There is one common theme when talking to the Celtics about Antetokounmpo.

“He’s very, very efficient in the paint,” Kyrie Irving said.

“He dominates the game, and especially in the paint,” Al Horford said.

“Once he gets inside the paint it seems like he’s dunking the ball. You have no chance to contest,” Semi Ojeleye said.

Antetokounmpo is an absolute monster getting to the rim. His career-high shooting percentage is fueled by a career-high 64 percent shooting from 2. So how does a team try to limit one of the most vicious drivers in the league? Morris and Ojeleye, two guys Boston has turned to in the past, offered their insight without spilling state secrets ahead of their series.

“Obviously he has his weaknesses, he has his strengths” Morris said, expressing, as always, that he’s up for this challenge. “Facing him you try to keep him out the lane as much as possible, which is a tough task. You’ve got to be physical with him. Obviously he’s massive, it’s going to be a tough job.”

Physicality is a key in trying to limit Giannis. It’s probably a less effective strategy today than it was a year ago because of the strides he’s made.

“Once he gets it so deep (in the paint) it’s a dunk or he’s finger rolling it, so try to make it tough,” Ojeleye said. “He’s a strong guy, he works hard on his body, so it’s a tough matchup.”

The other part of the physicality when it comes to guarding Antetokounmpo is making him earn his points from the free throw line, where he shoots 72.9 percent, as opposed to giving up dunks.

“You definitely don’t want him dunking,” Ojeleye said. “Once he gets within two feet it’s a guaranteed dunk so I think in that situation, you’d rather force him to take a tough shot, like foul him, or play really aggressive in that moment.”

Morris has no issue with that strategy.

“I’ve got my different ways I’m going to guard him, other guys have their different ways to guard him, but the best thing is to be as aggressive as he is,” he said. “He’s coming in, he’s clearing space, so, hard fouls, hard stance.”

A major part of the plan to defend Giannis involves having other people helping to defend Giannis.

“He’s a tough guy to stop one-on-one, especially in the full court,” Ojeleye said. “So in those times you try to load up as we call it, and try to force him to your help, to a teammate.”

Boston is going to employ a gang-defense mentality against Antetokounmpo because they have no choice. What that presents, though, is a pick-your-poison scenario with the rest of the Bucks. They aren’t the same Bucks that started Thon Maker played Jason Terry big minutes off the bench.

“The hard part about their team is that in an ideal world you’d sell out all five guys to help in on him because of his impact in the paint,” Brad Stevens said. “But they shoot it so well you have to be appropriate in your help. And it puts you in a tough spot. They’re well-drilled, very well-schooled and their spacing is perfect for him. He’s a bear, he’s a load in transition and he’s a load in the halfcourt.”

So if the Celtics can’t defend Giannis with one guy, and they can’t commit too many guys, and if there are obvious limits to how often they can foul, then what’s the secret to guarding him?

“If there was I wouldn’t say it,” Morris told me, refusing to spill those state secrets.

There is no one way the Celtics can defend Giannis. He’s a singular force unlike any other in the league. What Boston really needs to do in this series is find the least offputting way for Giannis to get this numbers without raising the games of everyone else on the floor. Boston will throw waves at him. They will foul him. They will challenge him to do his least comfortable things.

Little of it will matter. They just have to hope enough of what he does doesn’t matter to the final score.

“We have to play our system,” Horford said. He’s another one of those guys who will get time on Antetokounmpo. “I’m sure different guys will be on him throughout the game. But in reality it’s do what we do and stick to our strengths. Follow our game plan.”


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