Just a few days ago, when Stan Van Gundy made his comments about the MVP race being over and publicly campaigning for Dwight Howard instead of Derrick Rose, I was on the verge of agreeing with him. Howard has posted career highs in points and rebounds this season, has shot a ridiculous percentage from the field, and in terms of advanced stats, only LeBron James tops him.
Then I watched the masterpiece Rose put on in Milwaukee, and it reminded me once again why the players compete and why stats don't tell the whole story.
Yes, Rose scored 30 points and tallied 17 assists, the latter a career high for the third-year point guard. Just from looking at the box score you can obviously see he was the player of the game. But to know he is the MVP of the league, you had to actually watch the final minutes of the game.
With the Bulls trailing 83-87, Rose fearlessly drove to the basket and drew contact. He then calmly hit two free throws (he would finish the game 12-for-12 from the charity stripe). On the next possession following a defensive stop he dished out one of his 17 assists to Joakim Noah to tie the game.
Then came the craziness.
Rose drained three baskets in the final two minutes, proving once again he is a true closer, a finisher and a winner. Stacey King went absolutely crazy as Rose was doing this, which I documented on my Twitter account for posterity.
"LET ME STEP BACK AND KISS MYSELF!"
"THIS IS MY PLAYGROUND! I'M PLAYING BY MYSELF!"
While the rest of the people watching Rose's poetry on the basketball court probably used better prose to describe what they were witnessing, I guarantee the emotion was still there. Like it or not stat geeks, that sort of play is what truly defines the NBA's Most Valuable Player.
Howard and James might be highly efficient when they are on the court, but Rose has been more clutch than both of them this season. He exudes a quiet confidence from the point guard position that permeates throughout the entire team and makes the Bulls believe they can win every game they play.
And, in the end, that winning will probably be the deciding factor. As Rose himself says, winning will take care of everything, and with the Bulls seemingly running away with the top spot in the Eastern Conference, it's hard to argue for Howard when the Orlando Magic are sitting in fourth place. Even though Howard had to withstand a major shift in personnel in December, Rose had an equally difficult task of playing without Carlos Boozer early on and then without Noah midway through the season.
Sources close to Rose have said he wants to win the award badly, and I'd bet Van Gundy's comments fueled him to such a spectacular performance against the Bucks.
Now, especially after the way he imposed his will to win on the Milwaukee Bucks, Stan Van Gundy is right. The MVP race is essentially over.