Bucks star Giannis ​Antetokounmpo rampaged through just about every opponent over the course of a potential MVP season. He’s been like Luke Hobbs breaking out of a prison — throw as many bodies in front of him as you want, but he’s destroying all of them.

Or at least he was, until he ran into Kawhi Leonard, Toronto’s ultimate defensive cyborg.


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Raptors coach Nick Nurse decided to shift Leonard to Antetokounmpo for Games 3, 4 and 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, all victories for Toronto. After initially being used sparingly against Antetokounmpo, Leonard has been unleashed and shown why he is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

The NBA.com matchup data tells the story. 

Antetokounmpo vs. LeonardPossessionsPointsShootingAssists Turnovers Game 1800-110Game 21152-301Game 34142-1212Game 43473-712Game 537104-810Totals1312611-31 (35.5%)45

Leonard is unique in that he has the quick hands and feet to bother Antetokounmpo on the perimeter but also the strength and size (6-7, 230 pounds) to challenge Antetokounmpo at the rim. “The Greek Freak” typically runs right past or through defenders in transition on his way to easy baskets. Leonard is capable of sticking to his hip on dribble drives.


The rest of the Raptors do deserve some credit, of course. It wouldn’t be a 3-2 series without a complete defensive effort. Leonard has been great at the point of attack, but Antetokounmpo can still find ways to score if every defender on the floor isn’t aware of where he is with and without the ball.

Take this possession from Game 4. Pascal Siakam stays attached to Antetokounmpo until he sees Khris Middleton driving baseline. Siakam quickly turns to help Leonard, and Middleton dishes off to Antetokounmpo under the basket. Marc Gasol then helps the helper, throwing his arms straight up to avoid a foul.

Rather than float away from the play, Leonard jumps back in and rejects Antetokounmpo’s shot attempt. Siakam sprints back out to his matchup, leaving the Raptors in good shape after a defensive scramble.

Siakam (99 possessions) and Serge Ibaka (55 possessions) have taken their turns on Antetokounmpo along with Gasol (31 possessions) and Danny Green (26 possessions). But no one has enjoyed quite the same level of success as Leonard.

He’s the biggest reason why Antetokounmpo is struggling more in the conference finals than his previous two series.

Antetokounmpo playoff statsPoints per gameField goal %Paint field goal %Turnovers per gameVs. Pistons (four games)26.351.262.52.8Vs. Celtics (five games)28.453.472.72.8Vs. Raptors (five games)23.045.654.24.6

It’s certainly possible Antetokounmpo figures out different ways to attack Leonard and rediscovers his MVP form in Game 6. Leonard is also dealing with some sort of left leg injury, and if that slows him down at all, Antetokounmpo could gain a one-on-one advantage.

Leonard does feel like a different kind of riddle for Antetokounmpo, though. Through more than 100 possessions, the Bucks forward hasn’t really figured out a way to land a counter punch in this matchup. 

That’s what makes Leonard so special. He might be the only player in the league who can make Antetokounmpo — and a 2-0 series lead — suddenly disappear.