Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics dunks over Carmelo Anthony....

Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics dunks over Carmelo Anthony. (Jan. 7, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Carmelo Anthony got hot in the fourth quarter Monday night, and not in the usual way. He was even hotter afterward, and could face punishment from the NBA.

Anthony and Kevin Garnett shoved one another and got in each other's face in the fourth quarter. The physical play and jawing continued throughout the quarter, and after the Knicks' 102-96 loss, MSG Network reported that Anthony was outside the Celtics' locker room and needed to be restrained by security. There were reports of shouting outside the locker room.

The Celtics' television station, Comcast SportsNet New England, also had video of Anthony waiting outside the Celtics' team bus for Garnett. Mike Woodson, police offers and security guards hovered around Anthony to make sure nothing happened.

Anthony left the Garden without speaking to the media, and the Knicks wouldn't confirm the initial report that he was outside Boston's locker room. When Woodson was asked about it, he cut off the question before it was asked. "I don't know anything about that," he said. "I'm not even going to comment on that. If you want to talk about the game, we can do that."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers was a little more forthcoming. "I'm going to let you all figure that one out," he said. "I'm going to stay out of that. If it was the playoffs, I'd tell on him. But since it's not, I'm just going to be quiet."

Everyone was quiet in both locker rooms, but the NBA will investigate. Anthony could be fined or suspended, depending on what the league finds out.

It was a ho-hum game before the two got into it with a little more than nine minutes left, but then the teams played like heated rivals. Both woke up, as did the Garden crowd, which chanted "Boston [stinks].''

"There was a lot of talk all night," said Amar'e Stoudemire, who had 13 points in 28 minutes. "Boston is known for talking. We weren't going to back down and Carmelo didn't back down at all. That's expected in a game between the Knicks and the Celtics. It's going to be a heck of a battle from here on out."

The confrontation appeared to motivate Anthony, who asked for the ball and hit a three-pointer with 8:52 left. Then he let Garnett take him out of his game. He missed his final six shots, was 2-for-10 in the fourth and scored one point in the last 8:51.

"I'm going to defend Melo and our players and this team," Woodson said. "In the heat of the battle, you got to hang in there and you got to keep playing."

Said Garnett, "It's the heat of the battle, man. Guys going back and forth. He's trying to get his team to go. I'm trying to get my team to go. Both teams are colliding. It's just what it is.''

Anthony, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, scored 20 points but shot only 6-for-26.

"First of all, Melo's capable of having a bad night," Woodson said. "Melo has been pretty damn good for our ballclub."

The Celtics, who have won the last five Atlantic Division titles, showed their mettle despite the absence of Rajon Rondo and executed down the stretch to beat the current division leader.

Paul Pierce scored 23 points, including eight in the fourth, to pace Boston (17-17). Garnett added 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Celtics, who found out about three hours before tipoff that Rondo had been suspended for one game for making contact with a referee Saturday.

J.R. Smith, who took 11 stitches in the forehead after colliding with Avery Bradley, led the Knicks (23-11) with 24 points. Tyson Chandler had 13 points and 16 rebounds.

The score was tied at 86 with 6:41 left, but the Celtics scored on five of their next six trips. They went ahead 96-91 with 2:55 left on Garnett's two free throws. Pierce fed Bradley for a layup and then hit a step-back jumper over Chandler to put Boston up six with 45.5 seconds left.

"As the game wore on, we let things get to us a little bit," Woodson said. "We can't let that happen."