NEW YORK — Even as blood flowed and bodies flew, the biggest wound inflicted on the Boston Celtics came from their coach.

Doc Rivers used a word at halftime the Celtics don’t usually hear.

“Doc thought we were soft,” Kevin Garnett said. “He thought our play was soft, he thought everything we were doing was soft and we weren’t the Cs. So we got firm.”

And in the process, they showed the New York Knicks they’ll have to get a whole lot tougher if this was in fact a playoff preview.

Garnett had 24 points and 11 rebounds, Rajon Rondo added 13 points and 12 rebounds, and the Celtics scored the final 10 points for a spirited 96-86 victory on Monday.

The Celtics were bloodied, but it takes much more for them to be beaten.

“We’ve been in every game that you can imagine, big games, so you know we don’t really get rattled,” forward Paul Pierce said. “We know how to respond when the games get testy and physical and sometimes we keep our poise, sometimes we don’t, but tonight we did.”

Pierce scored 21 points and Ray Allen had 15 for Boston despite a poor shooting night and a nasty cut on his head that briefly forced him from the game.

Carmelo Anthony scored 22 points for the Knicks, but neither he nor Amare Stoudemire had a field goal in the fourth quarter. Chauncey Billups had 21 and Stoudemire finished with 16.

“We just got to a point there, I thought we just panicked,” Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Boston (50-19) matched its victory total from last season and remained tied with Chicago for the best record in the Eastern Conference, seizing control in the final minutes with its trademark tough defense and the sensational all-court play of Rondo, who made the tiebreaking basket with 3:10 left.

“We like to say that we’re always going to battles with different teams,” said Allen, who needed seven stitches. “It’s the game that we’re used to playing and we get out there, we’ve just got to make sure that we bring that fight.”

The game started to resemble a playoff scrap in the second quarter.

Boston’s Troy Murphy had to come out of the game with a bloody nose, and Glen Davis crashed to the court after Anthony caught him in the head with an elbow after grabbing a rebound.

Then, Allen had to leave briefly in the third quarter after his head was bloodied by Jared Jeffries’ elbow while going for a rebound. Allen wiped blood from his head on the court with a towel, not far from where his mother was seated next to Spike Lee in the front row of courtside seats.

“This felt like a playoff game tonight,” Garnett said. “Felt like we were in a bar fight.”