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CELTICS NOTEBOOK

Brad Stevens had a sense Giannis Antetokounmpo would be special

Giannis Antetokounmpo has gone from a relatively unknown 15th overall pick to the NBA MVP.JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo had a fast and startling ascension, transforming from a relatively unknown 15th overall pick to an NBA MVP at just 24 years old.

Although Antetokounmpo had a limited role as a rookie in 2013-14, Celtics coach Brad Stevens had a sense even then that something big could be in store.

“I’ll never forget the first time I saw him running down the floor,” Stevens said Wednesday, before the Celtics defeated the Bucks, 116-105. “It was early on in our year that year and I was just like, ‘Wow.’ It was one of those deals where he was still growing in his ability to impact the game the way he does now, but he took two dribbles from the opposite free throw line and did one of his deals and it was just like, ‘Holy smokes.’ There aren’t many human beings that can do that.”

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Stevens said that Antetokounmpo has always been a dangerous transition player, but he has been impressed by the other ways he has evolved.

Brad Stevens has always been impressed by Giannis Antetokounmp.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

“He’s just consistently added to his game,” Stevens said. “From afar, I don’t know him other than coaching him in the All-Star Game. But I remember him telling me in the All-Star Game that, ‘I’m going to play hard.’ Might be one of a few [players to do that]. That’s his deal, right? He plays really hard as a competitor.”

Brown out

Jaylen Brown missed Wednesday’s game because of an illness. Stevens said that Brown took part in the morning shootaround but started to feel sick afterward and was ruled out after meeting with a team doctor.

On Tuesday, Brown said he was excited about the chance to defend Antetokounmpo. But his absence forced Boston to reshuffle a bit.

“We’ll have to guard him by committee,” Stevens said. “We’ll probably have to do a lot of different things, that’s just part of it. We’ve missed guys before, and you move on and take that next-man-up approach.”

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Marcus Smart started in place of Brown and finished with 19 points and six assists in 38 minutes. Enes Kanter missed his third consecutive game because of a sprained knee, and Daniel Theis returned after missing one game with a sprained ankle and had 11 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes.

Looking back

Celtics point guard Kemba Walker had some success against the Bucks during his time with the Hornets. Boston’s system is quite different than Charlotte’s, but Stevens said there will often be times when he looks back at Walker’s portfolio when helping prepare for an opponent.

“Every game you just kind of look at what they’ve done, what they’ve run, what they’ve looked at during after-timeout plays,” Stevens said. “You have a general idea about what Charlotte ran last year and what they did on a day-to-day basis. You’ll come back and look at that. I’d say before every time you play a team for the first time.”

Major upgrades

The Celtics’ sparkling new locker room is one of the results of the $100 million TD Garden renovation. The rookies don’t know anything different, but before Wednesday’s game, Celtics legend Paul Pierce, who was in town as part of ESPN’s broadcast team, stepped in and took a quick look at some of the luxuries he missed out on.


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.

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