Championship contenders have to be good.
But they have to be lucky, too.
The Thunder’s luck came to a screeching halt on Friday when we learned that Russell Westbrook needs surgery on his right knee. He has a lateral meniscus tear, an injury suffered in the second quarter of Game 2 against the Rockets.
The ironman point guard has played every game in Thunder history.
Now, we don’t know when he’ll play again.
The injury happened when Westbrook knocked knees with Houston guard Patrick Beverley. It looked painful, and from Westbrook’s limping, hopping, scorer’s-table-pounding reaction, we know that it was.
But how many times have we seen plays that looked much worse?
Westbrook takes at least one ugly-looking tumble every game. He crashes to the floor. He collides with other players. He tumbles into fans or photographers sitting courtside.
That’s how he plays. Hard charging. Hair on fire.
And until now, none of that has kept him from a game.
Westbrook has played every game that the Thunder has played. Since the franchise planted a stake in the ground in Oklahoma City, Westbrook hasn’t missed a game, 394 in the regular season and 45 in the playoffs.
Part of that has been due to his good genes and his resiliency. Part of that has been due to the team’s training and medical staff. But part of that has been due to luck. The difference between being fine and being injured is just that razor thin.
No two ways around that.
Great teams have to have some luck, and for the past few years, the Thunder have had it. No starter has suffered major injury. Heck, few reserves have.
But that good fortune ran out Friday.
Does that mean the Thunder is no longer a contender?
That remains to be seen, but we’ve come to find out it sure is easier to be one of the best teams in the league when luck is on your side.