After vanquishing Giannis Antetokounmpo and the top seed-Milwaukee Bucks in an improbable upset, Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler has set his eyes on ripping out the hearts of his old mentor Tom Thibodeau and the New York Knicks.
“Ain’t nobody worried about Thibs,” Butler told reporters after he dropped 98 points on Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks over the last two games.
Butler and Thibodeau’s familiarity with each other is one of the intriguing subplots of the series between the two storied franchises, whose rivalry in the 90s has defined the physicality and competitive fire of that era.
Butler has all the makings of the next great Garden villain.
But he doesn’t care about that, nor the rivalry between their teams and the rich history of great players cementing their legacies at the iconic Madison Square Garden.
“Honestly, you’re asking the wrong person,” Butler said when asked about what it meant to him to be part of the rivalry and play playoff basketball at the iconic Garden floor.
“I don’t care where we play,” Butler added. “We just gotta beat them four times. I understand you’re trying to hype it up, but this is what I think. We’re gonna compete. We’re gonna be the better group, and we’re going to be together through good and through bad, just like we were in this series. So whether we play in Miami, in the Garden, or at Rucker Park, we need to win four games.”
The Knicks-Heat Eastern Conference semifinals begin on Sunday, April 30, at the Garden at 1 p.m. E.T. on ABC.
Josh Hart as Jimmy Butler’s Stopper
Thibodeau is coming into this Knicks-Heat series with an ace up his sleeve against his former player Butler.
Josh Hart is expected to take the tough assignment of guarding Butler with Quentin Grimes’ status still unclear due to a shoulder injury,
Hart successfully slowed down four-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell in the first round.
Thibodeau fancies Hart because he reminds him of Butler.
“Watching Jimmy in college and the things he did at Marquette, Josh reminded me of that with the things he did at Villanova,” Thibodeau said in February after the Knicks acquired Hart at the trade deadline. “I think those types of players give your team heart, toughness, and that goes a long way.”
True enough, Hart has been impactful since he joined the Knicks. They have won 21 of Hart’s first 30 games with the team, including their gentleman sweep of Mitchell and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.
Against the Cavaliers, Hart averaged 11.6 points, 7.8 rebounds (2.4 offensive rebounds), 1.4 assists and 1.2 steals. He was the Knicks’ second-best rebounder behind center Mitchell Robinson in the series.
Josh Hart Praises Mitchell Robinson
The matchup between Bam Adebayo and Mitchell Robinson down low is equally intriguing in the upcoming Knicks-Heat second-round series.
Robinson had a phenomenal playoff debut against the Cavaliers, which did not go unnoticed.
“He showed this series why he’s one of the best bigs in the league,” Hart said. “He was huge for us on the defensive end; he’s gotta be the best rebounder in the league just in terms of how he goes and gets the ball on both the defensive and offensive rebounds. He was huge for us, blocking shots, rebounding, controlling the paint. Like I said, he showed this series why he’s one of the best bigs in the league.”
Robinson is leading the league in offensive rebounds in the NBA Playoffs with 5.8 per game in the first round. He averaged 9.8 rebounds, 8.0 points and 2.2 blocks in a dominant performance against the Cavaliers frontline of All-Star center Jarrett Allen and Defensive Player of the Year finalist Evan Mobley.