BOSTON -- Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks knew to expect a hostile environment here Thursday night, more heated than the average late-January regular-season game.
The events of Jan. 7 at Madison Square Garden, when Anthony and Kevin Garnett jawed at each other on the court -- and Anthony confronted Garnett outside the Celtics' locker room and by their team bus afterward -- provided the additional intensity.
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Anthony said it's behind him. But for all the Knicks, this game presented a test for them and how they would handle their surroundings and emotions in front of some of the more rabid, raucous and loyal fans in the NBA.
It also was a test to see how the Knicks would handle whatever trash-talking Garnett, Paul Pierce or any of the Celtics did during the game.
The Knicks have shown they can be hotheaded and lose their cool easily when play gets physical and emotions run high. It's affected their play. Being able to win games like this one is critical for the Knicks to make a deep playoff run.
"I think my team is mentally tough as well as physically tough," coach Mike Woodson said. "I don't think we'd be in the position we're in, sitting at the top of our division, if we weren't.
"[The Celtics] are a mentally tough team. They're battle-tested. They've won a title. Their key guys, they know what it's like to be in tough games. We're trying to get to that point and we can't run from it."
It's clear that Woodson and his staff talked plenty to the players about keeping their heads in this game and not getting rattled by anything, including the fans.
"We have to keep our composure," Stoudemire said.
"We have it in our minds that it's going to be hostile," Felton said. "There's going to be a lot of crazy things thrown at us -- not objects but words."
Stoudemire said he expected the officials to have "a no-tolerance policy" to make sure they controlled the game.
Things got out of control a little more than two weeks ago at the Garden.
Garnett reportedly said something about Anthony's wife in the fourth quarter and he became furious. Anthony talked to Garnett and the two were physical with each other for the rest of the game.
The Celtics executed better down the stretch and won. Anthony shot 6-for-26 and was just 1-for-7 after the confrontation. But Woodson didn't agree that Anthony let it take him out of his game.
"Melo had a bad game," Woodson said. "He hadn't had very many this year. The trash-talking was a focal point of that particular game and I don't like to see that in our game. You get paid to play and that's how it should be but it's been a part of our game for many, many years. And I'm sure it's not going to just stop because of what happened at that game back at our place."
The Knicks will continue to face those types of exchanges and physical games whenever they play Chicago and Boston. They were 0-4 combined against those two teams entering Thursday night's game.
"They've already set the tone in terms of how they play," Woodson said. "Those are teams that are going to be there when it counts at the end in terms of making a playoff push. We've just got to match that intensity. That's just how it's going to be if you meet them in a playoff series. It's going to be that way, you know that coming in."