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The Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets are the class of the NBA. That doesn't guarantee they'll see each other in June, but these are the two best teams in the league.

That got reinforced in Thursday night's heavyweight slugfest at Ball Arena.

Boston boasts the most talented top six in the Association. But Denver's championship experience and having the best player in the world has outweighed that in the two's regular-season meetings.

These battles have been physical; they've featured a playoff-like intensity and forced both teams to overcome struggles from beyond the arc. In both cases, the Nuggets figured out how to do so.

They got a combined 69 points and 14 assists from Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray in a 102-100 win as they handed the Celtics their first loss at TD Garden after a 20-0 start on their parquet this season.

On Thursday, the hosts produced 66 points in the paint, 12 more than Boston. The latter committed 12 turnovers, which fed into 19 fast-break points and directly led to Denver scoring 16 off those giveaways.

There was also an inability to figure out how to simultaneously stop Nikola Jokic as a scorer and as a facilitator. The two-time MVP finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, and two steals.

"His ability to get the ball in the paint, and with the shooting and the spacing that they have, and the offensive rebounding presence that (Aaron) Gordon brings, it puts you in a bind in a close game as to what you're willing to give up," voiced Celtics' head coach Joe Mazzulla after his team's 115-109 loss, as captured by NBC Sports Boston.

One of the adjustments the visitors made to combat the five-time All-NBA selection was putting Jrue Holiday on him. The two-time All-Defensive First Team member performed admirably against Jokic.

And while Boston gave up 20 points in the paint in the final frame, the Nuggets also went 0/5 from beyond the arc and committed four turnovers.

Limiting the hosts to 25 points in the fourth quarter kept the Celtics in the contest.

So did Jaylen Brown, the driving force most responsible for the visitors nearly pulling out a win in the Mile High City.

The three-time All-Star registered 41 points and 14 rebounds, both game-highs. He also dished out four assists and swiped two steals. And while playing with a sacroiliac strain only made his effort and performance more impressive, faring 7/14 at the free-throw line was a glaring blemish.

Boston went 16/25 (64 percent), while Denver converted on 21/22 foul shots (95.5 percent). It's a reflection of how the Nuggets again made the plays the Celtics didn't, even when it was as simple as capitalizing while at the stripe.

A more challenging issue for the latter to solve if it sees this team in June is that Gordon wreaked havoc from the dunker spot. That includes doing so on a put-back slam to extend the hosts' lead to 109-102 with 2:06 remaining.

The former Arizona Wildcat effectively sealed his team's sweep of this regular season series when Holiday stepped up to greet Jokic as Denver's star center spun into the paint. Jayson Tatum got caught ball-watching and didn't rotate to account for Gordon, and the six-foot-eight forward flushed home an alley-oop, extending the Nuggets' advantage to 113-109 with 19.1 seconds left.

It was a rough night for Tatum, who likely saw any hope of surging to the top of the MVP race end at Ball Arena.

The five-time All-Star finished with 15 points on 5/13 shooting; he dished out eight assists but had five turnovers and made the costly mistake on defense just mentioned.

And after an 11-4 run, including back-to-back threes by Holiday, narrowing the gap to 111-109 with 1:08 on the game clock, on the heels of a steal by Brown, Tatum threw him an errant lob pass.

It appeared it might work out in Boston's favor, with the two-time All-NBA First Team selection ending up with an open right-corner three. But his shot ricocheted off the rim and into the arms of Jokic.

"I'm not trying to make it about myself," voiced Tatum when asked about his MVP candidacy after the game, per Jared Weiss of The Athletic.

"We talk about respecting each other's space and understanding the flow of the game. It's not upon me to hijack the game and make it about me, and (that) it's a national TV game. Other guys had it going. So if I have to be in the corner (or) if I have to be a facilitator at times, (then) so be it."

Tatum's sacrifice as a scorer and steadfast commitment to making teams pay for sending a second defender at him speak even louder than his words.

But the Nuggets shot 4/21 (19 percent) from beyond the arc; Jamal Murray, who finished with 19 points, had six and three turnovers in the second half, and they still figured out how to maintain control for most of the game and propelled themselves to victory.

For the Celtics to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy, they need both of their stars to show up in matchups like this one, must do a better job on the margins, and go from the team that almost won if not for missing on a great opportunity or having to tip their cap to a play made by the opponent and become the ones performing at a championship level.

Further Reading

Warriors' 'Disrespect' Only One Source of Fuel for Jaylen Brown Sunday

'The Best Team in the NBA': Luka Doncic Struck by Celtics' Balance

Jaylen Brown's Evolution Crucial to Celtics' Desire to Win with More Than Talent

Celtics Embracing Challenge to Go Beyond Most Talented

Jayson Tatum Opens Up About Sacrificing in Celtics' Title Pursuit: 'It's a Process'

Brad Stevens Discusses Celtics' Plan for Final Roster Spot

Marcus Smart Shares How Boston Shaped Him, His Message to Celtics Fans

Celtics Maturation Molded by Experience: 'It Builds, Like, an Armor'

Jaylen Brown Quieting Doubters, Validating What He Always Believed: 'Earn Everybody's Trust'

Joe Mazzulla Discusses Identity, Evolution of Celtics' Offense: 'Balance of Pace and Execution'