LOS ANGELES: Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray combined for 69 points as the Denver Nuggets ended Boston’s unbeaten home start to the season with a thrilling 102-100 victory on Friday.
A heavyweight showdown between the reigning NBA champions and a league-leading Celtics side lived up to the billing in a gripping battle at Boston’s TD Garden.
Denver’s victory snapped Boston’s 20-game unbeaten run at home this season, the Nuggets laying down a psychological marker in what could well turn out to be a possible NBA Finals preview.
Both two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Jokic and Murray were in scintillating form throughout.
Jokic finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists while Murray led the Nuggets scoring with 35 points from 15-of-21 shooting.
“During the season you’ve got to find ways of motivating yourself and your team, and them not having a loss at home really motivated us,” Murray said afterwards.
“We just wanted to come here and bring the right energy regardless. It was good to get a dub (win) today,” added Murray, who also had eight rebounds and five assists.
“They’ve got a great team, lot of guys I’m familiar with that I’ve been playing with or against my whole life — just a lot of fun when it gets competitive and physical like that. Just a really good win on the road.”
Derrick White led Boston’s scoring with 24 points while Jayson Tatum added 22 and Kristaps Porzingis 21.
For long periods of Friday’s titanic battle, it looked as if Boston would escape with their unbeaten home record intact in a game that saw the lead change hands 13 times.
The Celtics built a hefty 12-point lead during the second quarter with Tatum scoring 10 points and Jaylen Brown adding seven.
But Denver always managed to claw their way back into the contest and edged ahead 99-98 with 3min 36sec remaining after Jokic’s driving hook shot.
Tatum missed an opportunity to tie the game with an unsuccessful driving layup with 17 seconds left and the Nuggets held on for a gutsy victory.
Boston remain top of the Eastern Conference with 32 wins and 10 defeats, leading second-placed Milwaukee (28-13).
Denver improved to 29-14 and are third in the Western Conference behind Minnesota (30-11) and Oklahoma City (28-13).
In other games around the NBA on Friday, Devin Booker produced a superb 52-point display as the Phoenix Suns routed the New Orleans Pelicans 123-109 on the road.
Suns point guard Booker made six three-pointers while shooting 18 of 30 from the field in an impressive Phoenix win.
Kevin Durant added 26 points for the Suns with Bradley Beal scoring 13.
Zion Williamson scored 24 points for New Orleans who trailed almost for the entirety of the contest.
Elsewhere Friday, hopes of a Los Angeles Lakers’ revival ground to a halt as the 17-time NBA champions were thumped 130-112 by the Brooklyn Nets.
Impressive back-to-back wins over Oklahoma City and Dallas this week encouraged optimism that the struggling Lakers may have turned a corner.
But the Lakers were sent back to the drawing board after a blowout defeat to the Nets, who arrived for Friday’s assignment in Los Angeles on the back of a four-game losing streak having dropped nine of their last 10 games.
Cam Thomas led the Nets scoring with 33 off the bench, including four three-pointers. Anthony Davis (26 points) and LeBron James (24) led the Los Angeles scoring.
In Orlando meanwhile, Joel Embiid’s rich vein of form for Philadelphia continued as the 76ers swatted aside the Magic 124-109.
Reigning NBA MVP Embiid delivered another barnstorming display, scoring 36 points and grabbing seven rebounds in just three quarters as the Sixers cruised past their opponents.
Embiid’s performance included one jaw-dropping moment in the second quarter, the 7ft 2in forward bouncing the ball off the backboard and then grabbing the rebound himself for a slam dunk that had his teammates leaping off the bench to give him an ovation.
It marked Embiid’s 19th straight game where he has scored 30 points or more as the Sixers bagged their fourth consecutive victory.