May 31, 2023

His current coach calls him “maniacal and at times psychotic,” but Jimmy Butler’s first NBA coach will have to devise a plan to stop the well-known All-Star guard as the latest would-be villain of the second-round MSG playoffs of the playoffs.

Butler, who played for Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau on both the Bulls and Timberwolves, took the eighth-seeded Heat to a rare upset of the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference in a stunning elimination of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in five matches. .

Based on Miami coach Erik Spoelstra’s description after Wednesday’s comeback victory in Milwaukee, the 33-year-old Butler won’t wilt under the bright lights of New York as quickly as Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers did in the opening round.

“A lot of guys play basketball in this league. He’s fighting to win. That’s a different language,” Spoelstra said Wednesday night. “He’s desperate and urgent and maniacal and sometimes psychotic about wanting to try to win.

“He will make everyone in the building feel it. And therefore he is us and we him. That’s how we work. The psychotic meets the psychotic. And it becomes a little bit whatever.


Jimmy Butler (22) of the Heat during Game 5 against the Bucks on April 26, 2023.
Jimmy Butler (22) of the Heat during Game 5 against the Bucks on April 26, 2023.
Getty Images

The six-time All-star scored 56 points in the Heat’s Game 4 win, and he followed that up by making a late shot to force overtime in the series clincher and finishing with 42 points to win a game in the second round set up with Thibodeau and the Knicks.

“I’m not worried about Thibs,” Butler said afterwards. Frankly, you’re asking the wrong person. I don’t care who we play against. We just have to beat them four times.

“I understand you’re trying to blow it up. But we’re going out and we’re going to fight. We’re going to be the better group. And we’ll be together through good and through bad, just like we were on this series. So whether we play in Miami, whether we play in the Garden or Rucker Park, we have to win four games.”


Jimmy Butler (l.) and Tom Thibodeau (r.) with the Bulls in 2014.
Jimmy Butler (l.) and Tom Thibodeau (r.) with the Bulls in 2014.
AP

Butler became an All-Star for the first time, winning the league’s Most Improved Player award under Thibodeau with the Bulls in 2014–15.

They spent four seasons together in Chicago and reunited in Minnesota in 2017 when Thibodeau traded for Butler, while the current Knicks bench boss was the coach and chief of basketball operations with the Timberwolves.

However, at the start of Butler’s second season there, he expressed his displeasure with the efforts of the T-Wolves’ young players, particularly Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.


Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau (l.) talks with Josh Hart (r.) during Game 5 against the Cavaliers on April 26, 2023.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau (l.) talks with Josh Hart (r.) during Game 5 against the Cavaliers on April 26, 2023.
Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

His demand for a trade was granted in November 2018 when Thibodeau shipped him to Philadelphia, where he played that season before signing as a free agent with the Heat the following summer.

Still, Thibodeau regularly speaks highly of Butler when the teams have met during the regular season.

Following Butler’s 56-point performance earlier this week, when it looked like the teams would meet in the second round, Thibodeau said, “I’m not surprised. I’ve seen him do that. He’s an incredible talent. … If I’ve been in a relationship with you, I want all those guys to do well, except we play him. I know what he’s trying to do. And I know what we’re trying to do.”

And now instead of trying to play against Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, which the Knicks won (3-0) in the regular season, Thibodeau’s team will face Butler and the Heat at the Garden starting Sunday.

The Knicks took three of four head-to-head games, with Butler averaging 22.5 points per game.

“We don’t listen to outside noise. And we won’t listen to outside noises,” Butler said. “We are going to do what we do. We’re going to learn from our mistakes and get better, and take the next series like we did this one.