Veteran forward Paul Pierce led the Boston Celtics to a 102-96 win over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, in a heated battle that continued even after the final buzzer sounded.

Despite the absence of star point guard Rajon Rondo, who received his second suspension of the season after bumping a referee during Saturday night's game against the Atlanta Hawks, the Celtics played at their highest level against their Atlantic Division rival.

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony struggled with his shot throughout Monday night's game, scoring 20 points but connecting on just 6-of-26 field goal attempts.

New York led throughout most of the first half, building a lead of 10 points in the first quarter and nine points in the second quarter behind the strong play of center Tyson Chandler, who finished the game with 13 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.

But Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Avery Bradley, who filled in for Rondo, all pitched in to cut that lead to three points at the half.

The Celtics then grabbed the lead during a hard-fought, defense-minded third quarter and never relinquished it down the stretch.

Pierce ended up with 23 points and six assists, while Garnett added 19 points and 10 rebounds as the veteran stars showed the form that carried the Celtics to the 2008 NBA title.

Three other Celtics players also finished in double figures - Bradley with 13 points, reserve swingman Jeff Green with 16 points, and reserve power forward Jared Sullinger with 10 points.

The Knicks were led in scoring by reserve swingman J.R. Smith, who had a game-high 24 points.

New York shot poorly overall from the field but was an efficient 44 percent from 3-point range thanks mainly to the efforts of Smith, point guard Jason Kidd and reserve forward Steve Novak, who went a combined 9-of-15 from behind the arc.

The game was marred by loads of trash talk involving Anthony and Garnett - who has a well-deserved reputation for getting under the skin of his opponents - and the battle of words continued after the contest was over.

Anthony and Garnett reportedly had a verbal spat in a tunnel and stadium security and New York police needed to intervene to keep the situation from escalating.

Anthony then apparently tried to make his way into the Celtics' locker room and later to find Garnett before he boarded his team's bus, but police said no blows were exchanged between the two players.

In other action Monday night in the NBA, the Washington Wizards stunned the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-99, the New Orleans Hornets surprised the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 and the Chicago Bulls pulled away from the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-92.

The Utah Jazz topped the Dallas Mavericks 100-94, the Memphis Grizzlies routed the Sacramento Kings 113-81 and the Portland Trail Blazers continued their hot streak by defeating the Orlando Magic 125-119 in overtime. EFE