Knicks vs. Heat: “Psychotic” Jimmy Butler is the next Garden-worthy foe

CLEVELAND — There’s a new and “psychotic” villain coming to Madison Square Garden.

Among the league’s fiercest contenders, Jimmy Butler put the Miami Heat on his back and completed a stunning upset of the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, setting up a second-round series against the Knicks that will be full of nostalgia and intensity.

Butler, it’s safe to assume, won’t be overwhelmed by the moment or the MSG environment like the Cavaliers, who folded as runaways against the Knicks.

“A lot of guys play basketball in this league. He competes to win. It’s a different language,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team crushed the Bucks with an overtime victory and a gentleman’s sweep. “He is desperate, urgent and manic and sometimes psychotic in his will to try to win.

“He’s going to make everybody in the building feel it. And therefore he is us and we are him. That’s how we operate. Psychotic meets psychotic. And it becomes a little bit of everything.”

The “anything” could be a reference to last season’s bench explosion between Butler, Spoelstra and Udonis Haslem. It was ugly and toxic, but the vaunted Heat culture survived long enough to make it out of this year’s play-in tournament and crush the Bucks.

Butler, 33, hit another notch in the Milwaukee series, averaging 37.6 points over the five games while shooting 60 percent. In Wednesday’s final game — which came two nights after Butler scored 56 points — he buried the game-tying bucket in the final second of regulation while falling backwards.

Although most players pay superficial homage to MSG, Butler has already dismissed the stories of the rivalry and the historic arena.

Match 1 is Sunday afternoon at the Garden.

“Honestly, you’re asking the wrong person. I don’t care who we play,” Butler said. “We have to beat them four times. I understand you’re trying to hype it up. But we will go there and compete. We will be the better group. And we will be together through thick and thin, as we have been in this series. So whether we’re playing in Miami, whether we’re playing in the Garden or Rucker Park, we’ve got to win four games.”

Butler also wasn’t worried about a reunion with Tom Thibodeau, who was his first coach in Chicago. Thibodeau, who gave Cleveland’s JB Bickerstaff a free workout clinic in Round 1, brought Butler to the second stop in Minnesota, but that partnership dissolved after the player exited practice and requested a trade.

Thibodeau wasn’t Butler’s problem with the Timberwolves — that was more Karl-Anthony Towns showing pancake strength — but he wasn’t counting on a warm welcome.

“I’m not worried about Thibs,” Butler said Wednesday night.

Despite Butler’s intimidating presence, the Heat were clearly the Knicks’ favorite matchup. Thibodeau’s team was swept in the regular season by the Bucks, who owned the league’s best record (58-24) and the player (Giannis Antetokounmpo).

Instead, the Knicks won their season series against the Heat, 3-1, including two wins in March.

A big part of that success was Julius Randle, who averaged 21 points against the Heat and hit a game-winner in Miami.

But Randle’s status is up in the air after re-aggravating his sprained ankle Wednesday night in Cleveland. He was struggling even before the injury, shooting just 34 percent in the Cavs series.

Leave the responsibility Jalen Brunson to carry the Knicks against their old rivals and the defender has made a career of holding his own.

“He is a star player. He showed it last year in the playoffs,” Josh Hart said, “He showed it all season. He continues to show it. He continues to prove people wrong. None of us in the locker room in that front office, the coaching staff, are surprised by the way he’s playing.”

Of course, this time, there is gauze on the other side.

“We don’t listen to outside noise,” Butler said after ripping the Bucks’ hearts out. “And we won’t listen to any outside noise. We will do what we do. We’re going to learn from our mistakes and get better and take the next series the way we took this one.”


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