Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has slammed his side claiming that they "gave in and quit" in Sunday's 124-104 loss to the Boston Celtics.

The Nuggets trailed 68-43 at half-time after a 46-21 run to the Celtics, leading to Malone benching several starters for the third quarter, including MVP Nikola Jokic who shot eight-of-23 from the field for his 23 points.

Malone was livid with his side, who slipped to a 42-30 record and seventh spot in the Western Conference.

"To me, it appeared we just kind of gave in and quit. I didn't want to reward that behaviour," Malone told reporters after the game.

"I thought the bench unit was at least going out there and competing and fighting."

Malone added: "If somebody’s kicking our ass and we’re fighting and competing, and they’re better than us, so be it,"

"They’re a very good team, but if we’re getting our butts kicked, and we’re just taking it, possession after possession, heads are dropped, body language giving in, I’m not going to reward that behaviour.

"There’s principles in life, and that goes against every principle inside my body."

Jokic was well down on his usual output with eight rebounds and four assists along with his 23 points, while starters Aaron Gordon (13 points, four rebounds), Monte Morris (seven points, four rebounds and four assists), Will Barton (eight points and five rebounds) and Jeff Green (six points and one rebound) struggled for impact.

"Tonight I can't point to one thing we did well," Malone said.

Jokic added: "Overall, they had a really good defensive game and I had a really bad offensive game."

Jayson Tatum, who was serenaded with "MVP" chants from the Celtics crowd, was joint top scorer with 30 points along with Jaylen Brown.

Boston's win improves their record to 44-28 and fourth in the east, having won three in a row and 10 of their past 12 games.