By A.Sherrod Blakely
NEW YORK You had spilled blood on the floor, belonging to both Boston and New York players.
The Celtics and the Knicks staged a physical, grind-it-out kind of game - just the kind of game the Celtics like to play.
Because more often than not, they find a way to win those games.
And Monday's game wasn't any different, as the Celtics rallied for a 96-86 win.
The Celtics (50-19, still tied with the Bulls for the best record in the East) trailed by as many as 15 points, but closed out the game with a 10-0 run to continue their dominance over the Knicks.
"You have to give the Celtics credit," said Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. "They get into you and they make it tough to find a good shot; that's why they're competing for a World Championship and that's what they do."
Boston has now won all three meetings with the Knicks (35-35) this season, and seven of the last eight, which is a cold splash of reality for those who believe the Knicks and their revamped roster now all of a sudden are one of the Celtics' rivals.
There's no question the Knicks are a better team since they added Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to a roster that featured Amar'e Stoudemire.
But the Celtics, as they have done time and time again this season, proved that having a trio of great players doesn't necessarily make you a great team, or at least a team good enough to beat Boston.
And on Monday, the C's did it by fighting through a rough second quarter, beating the Knicks to a slew of 5050 balls and in the end, having Paul Pierce deliver the knockout punch with a step-back jumper with less than a minute to play that gave the Celtics a six-point lead.
The physical nature of Monday's win was apparent even before Ray Allen suffered a cut near his right eye that required seven stitches, or the cut that Carmelo Anthony suffered in the fourth quarter that he said afterward led to him having difficult seeing.
"It was a good win. It was a blood bath," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a former player for the Knicks who is well-versed in how physical games between the C's and the Knicks can be. "I thought that was beautiful."
It certainly didn't begin that way for the Celtics, who found themselves starting at a double-digit deficit in the second quarter.
But those first-half woes were nowhere to be found in the second half, in part because of Rivers' openly questioning his team's toughness - or at that point, lack of toughness - at the half, which ended with the Celtics trailing. 51-37.
"I haven't used the word 'soft' in, maybe four years, but at halftime, that word came out a lot," Rivers said. "We just played in the second half . . . with a sense of urgency. We were more physical. And we made some shots."
Still, Rivers' halftime message clearly resonated with all the Celtics players.
"After Doc got our attention at halftime, we all settled in to who we are and went from there," said Kevin Garnett, who had a game-high 24 points along with 11 rebounds for his 24th double-double this season.
For the Knicks, losers of three straight and six of their last seven games, Monday's game served as yet another reminder that there still lies a huge gap between them and the NBA's elite.
New York's Chauncey Billups, who had 21 points on Monday, said going through games like this are part of the Knicks' growth.
"This is what building camaraderie is all about," Billups said. "Times like this where you can't get over that hump and come together as a team to get better."
The Celtics know this all too well, which is why there was never a sense of panic or concern even when the Knicks seemingly had the game under control.
"We've been in a lot of big games," Pierce said. "We've been in these type of atmospheres, these type of wars. We know how to handle ourselves. We don't really get rattled. We know how to respond when it gets testy, gets physical."