It wasn't a very merry Christmas for the Boston Celtics.
Ravaged by COVID-19 health and safety protocols, the undermanned Celtics admirably built up a 19-point first half lead against the defending NBA champions, the Milwaukee Bucks.
In what has become all too familiar a script for Boston over the last several seasons, the advantage evaporated late in a 117-113 loss that put the Celtics back below .500 once again on the season at 16-17. Boston held a 13-point lead with 5 minutes remaining and a 6-point cushion with 2:30 to go.
Former Celtic Kemba Walker's torrid stretch continues with Knicks
A gutsy effort with so many players unavailable? In some ways. Here are some other takeaways from Boston's loss at Fiserv Forum:
Onus on starters too much
An astounding nine players were out of the lineup for the Celtics on Christmas Day due to health and safety protocols.
While only one starter was missing, Al Horford, the trickledown effect on the remainder of the rotation led to some tired legs down the stretch at Fiserv Forum.
Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum each topped 40 minutes, Robert Williams III played 39 and Jaylen Brown, chipped tooth and all, saw 37 minutes of action.
Romeo Langford, Boston's fifth starter, played 26 minutes (scoring only 5 points). Payton Pritchard played 30 minutes off the bench and Juancho Hernangomez (16 minutes) and former Buck Jabari Parker (12) were the only other players to see the floor for the Green.
The other four players available for the Celtics, including Joe Johnson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Norvel Pelle and Brodric Thomas, did not see the floor.
Giannis gigantic down stretch for Bucks
Great players do great things, and even though he hadn't played in nearly two weeks, rust was no issue for Antetokounmpo.
Despite playing just 30 minutes, Giannis turned in a 36-point, 12-rebound masterpiece with five assists and his fair share of impact plays on the defensive end, including this block of Williams to help Milwaukee maintain a 116-113 lead with less than 10 seconds left:
The double-double for Giannis was his 17th of the season in only 27 games played.
Payton's place: In the rotation
The second-year point guard from Oregon has been taking advantage of Boston's depleted roster of late, recording two of his three highest-scoring games of the season prior to the Christmas contest.
In a season-high 31 minutes off the bench, Pritchard poured in 16 points on 6 of 14 shooting, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. His 14 field goal attempts were tied with Smart for third-most on the team following Tatum and Brown.
Even when the Celtics get closer to something resembling full strength, the 26th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft needs to have a role.
Time Lord efficient on offense
Williams logged 39 minutes, his third-highest output of the season, and recorded an 11-point, 14-point double-double on 5 of 7 shooting. The double-double was the second in as many games for Time Lord and his eighth of the season.
His impact wasn't quite as great on the defensive side of the floor, however, with two blocks and four personal fouls and Giannis cleaned up down low for the Bucks; as a team, Milwaukee had 56 points in the paint, twice as many as Boston's 28.
There was one highlight reel swat for Williams, however...but it led to the first lead of the game for the Bucks.
Boston is back in action Monday in Minnesota against the middling Timberwolves (15-17) for an 8 p.m. ET tip-off at the Target Center.