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Celtics coach Brad Stevens explains why he has so much respect for Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brad Stevens

Remember when it seemed like Al Horford and the Boston Celtics might have Giannis Antetokounmpo’s number? That was barely more than a week ago, after the Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks by 22 points in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Now, Milwaukee is on the verge of sending Boston home on Wednesday night with a fourth straight victory, and Antetokounmpo’s dominance is the biggest reason why.

During shootaround at Fiserv Forum, Celtics coach Brad Stevens lavished praise on the Bucks superstar, admitting there’s only so much his team can do to stop a player of Antetokounmpo’s physical gifts, competitive desire, and mental fortitude.

“I can’t tell you how much respect I have for the way he operates, who he is and everything else,” he said, per Jay King of The Athletic. “We just have to make it as tough as we can.”

Antetokounmpo, after scoring 22 points on 21 shots in the series’ opener, is averaging 33.3 points in the Bucks’ three consecutive wins, shooting 58.8 percent from the floor and connecting on 4-of-10 from beyond the arc. Stevens, though, seemed most impressed with his passing ability – not just against the Celtics, but all season long.

“What’s made him so good this year and it’s continued in this series is his passing,” he said, per Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. “If all he did was lower his head and drive…you’d be able to sink in, help, take charges. You wouldn’t feel good in the morning but you’d do it. But his passing is just really good.”

Antetokounmpo averaged a career-high 5.9 assists during the regular season, and has 16 assists in the last three games. More telling, Milwaukee’s assist ratio versus Boston dips from 63.9 percent with him on the floor to 41.7 percent with him on the bench, according to NBA.com/stats.

Game 5 tips off at 8:00 p.m. EST.