Knicks forward OG Anunoby and forward Bojan Bogdanovic react in...

Knicks forward OG Anunoby and forward Bojan Bogdanovic react in the second half of an NBA game against the Bulls at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Bring it on.

The Knicks don’t know if they are playing Miami in the playoffs. They don’t know if they are playing Philadelphia. And really, they don’t care.

The Knicks believe they can beat anyone, a message they sent with an exclamation point Sunday at Madison Square Garden when they defeated the Chicago Bulls, 120-119, in overtime. While some teams around the league were resting players and jockeying for playoff positions this week, the Knicks went all out to win a game they might have been better off losing.

With scores from games around the league trickling in, it became apparent by the fourth quarter that the Knicks could have an easier first-round opponent if they lost, dropped to third place and ended up playing the Indiana Pacers. But when Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau sent Jalen Brunson back onto the court with six minutes remaining and the Knicks trailing by a point, it became clear that the Knicks were playing to win no matter the repercussions.

The result was their first 50- win season since Carmelo Anthony led them to a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2012-13 and the reality that they now will have to play the 76ers or the Heat in the first round.

The 76ers have gone 7-0 since Joel Embiid rejoined the team. Though the Knicks went 2-1 against the Heat this season, Miami beat them in last year’s playoffs and coach Erik Spoelstra may be the best postseason coach in the game.

Thibodeau almost choked when he was asked if he had considered taking his foot off the gas and resting key players, as Cleveland did Sunday.

“We just play. We just play. I can’t speak for Cleveland,” Thibodeau said. “Cleveland does what’s best for their organization. We do what’s best for our organization. I mean, the object is to win. Put everything you have into winning. That’s the bottom line.”

That certainly has been the bottom line for the Knicks this season. They have survived injuries to three starters and produced the most likable team since Patrick Ewing was patrolling the paint in the 1990s. Other teams may be more talented and have had more time to come together as a unit, but the Knicks play hard every game.

It’s an attitude that has long been instilled by Thibodeau, who constantly tells his players not to look beyond the opponent they currently are facing.

“Everything counts. You know who we play for,” said Donte DiVincenzo, who scored 25 points against the Bulls while playing 52 minutes, 31 seconds.

“It doesn’t matter what type of game it is. We want to win every single game. We have a hell of an accomplishment making second seed and a 50-win season.”

Brunson scored 40 points, marking the 11th time this season he has had at least that many. He also came up with the rebound of DeMar DeRozan’s missed jumper with 2.1 seconds left for the final stop of the game.

Brunson said he wasn’t aware of what was going on in other games. He just knew that he wanted to win this game like always.

“We were trying to be the best team we could be,” he said. “We’re trying to create good habits that will turn out on the court. So obviously going forward, we’re going to have a tough opponent, but we’re just focusing on, how can we be the best team that we can be?”

The Knicks ended the season with five straight wins, which is nice momentum to have rolling into the playoffs. They’ve done it since getting the news that one of their All-Stars, Julius Randle, is not going to return and help them out after having season-ending shoulder surgery.

Thibodeau said it says a lot about the Knicks that they finished out the season the way they did.

“I think when you have competitors, it doesn’t matter,” he said “Competitors compete. It doesn’t matter if it’s a game, if it’s one-on-one, if it’s a shooting game, if it’s dominoes, if it’s some crazy podcast. Whatever it is, they compete. You don’t have to wind these guys up. That’s what I love about them. We’re not going to be perfect, we’ll make some mistakes. But they’re going to compete, and I think that’s important.”

In other words, bring it on.


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