NEW YORK — The Celtics had the last word after some tough talk between Kevin Garnett and Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, as Boston outlasted New York 102-96 Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
Paul Pierce scored 23 points and Garnett added 19 to give the Celtics their third straight win. Monday’s victory came without point guard Rajon Rondo, who was suspended for the third time in less than a year. The league announced the suspension was for making contact with a game official and failure to cooperate with a league investigation, relating to an incident in Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks.
The first battle of the season between the five-time defending Atlantic Division champion Celtics and the upstart Knicks became tense midway through the fourth quarter when Garnett and Anthony got into a jawing match. The intensity picked up from there.
But the Celtics outlasted the Knicks, thanks largely to a back-breaking jumper by Pierce as the shot clock expired for a 100-94 lead with 45 seconds left.
Anthony, whose 20 points represented his lowest total since Nov. 16, hit two free throws, and Celtics guard Jason Terry, in the lineup with Rondo out, was ruled to have stepped out of bounds, but the officials then said Terry called timeout before doing so.
Garnett hit two free throws after the timeout to seal the game for the Celtics.
J.R. Smith led the Knicks with 24 points, but he was bleeding and bandaged in the final minutes after getting fouled.
Boston went on a 6-2 run to open a 98-93 lead on a layup by Avery Bradley with 1:59 left.
Leading 76-72 entering the fourth quarter, the Celtics started the period on a 6-2 run for an 82-74 lead.
The Knicks responded with a 12-4 run to tie the game, as tensions and the volume raised at the Garden.
Anthony had struggled from the field for most of the game, but he brought the Knicks within 82-78 on a 3-pointer. Shortly after that, Anthony tangled with Garnett, seeming to give him a shove under the basket, and the players began jawing with each other before getting called for a double technical foul. As they were separated, Garnett made a motion with his fingers to indicate Anthony was talking a lot.
But the Knicks’ MVP candidate, who made only six of 26 shots from the field, responded by hitting a 3-pointer while the intensified crowd chanted an anti-Boston slogan. Jason Kidd then scored the Knicks’ next five points, including an open 3-pointer off an assist from Smith following a steal, and the game was tied 86-86 with 6:41 left.
Anthony was called for his fourth foul with 3:24 left in the third, when he was physical while trying to defend Jeff Green. Anthony looked frustrated by the call, but he hit the bench for the rest of the period.
The Celtics went on an 8-2 spurt and took a 74-68 lead after that, with Garnett and Green scoring three points apiece. The run was punctuated by Garnett’s free throw on a technical foul on Knicks point guard Pablo Prigioni, who kicked the ball in frustration after a basket by Green.
The Knicks took a 56-53 lead at halftime after a mostly back-and-forth first half. New York jumped out to an 18-8 lead in the first quarter, but with help from Garnett’s eight points in the period, the Celtics rallied for a 22-21 lead entering the second.
NOTES: Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t expect Rondo’s suspension because the official Rondo made contact with didn’t call a technical foul at the time. But Rivers acknowledged Rondo’s reputation did not help him. “You know the old saying, you’re not given a reputation, you earn one,” Rivers said. Asked if he was worried about that reputation growing for Rondo, Rivers replied, “I’m not worried about it because it’s already here. We just work on it every day.” Rondo, who did not talk before the game, bumped his shoulder slightly against the official during the third quarter of the Celtics’ win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. … While the Knicks have set a goal of winning the Atlantic Division and Rivers said they deserved to be seven games up on the Celtics entering Monday night’s game, the Boston coach said his organization doesn’t focus on division titles. Adding that he’s sure the Knicks also have loftier goals, Rivers said of the division title, “That’s not our goal. Our goal is bigger.” … Knicks guard Iman Shumpert (torn left ACL and meniscus) could practice Tuesday pending results of medical tests he underwent Monday, coach Mike Woodson said. … Anthony was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 36 points per game, including two performances with 40 points or more.