SALT LAKE CITY -- Jazz center Al Jefferson was sulky and sullen as he sat in front of his locker. He practically whispered as a gaggle of reporters leaned in to hear his comments following yet another disheartening loss.
Often gregarious and even playful after Utah victories, Big Al was anything but after Tuesday's 90-80 loss to Oklahoma City in the Jazz's second-to-last home game of the regular season.
Whether or not they'll have a playoff season remains to be seen.
"It's tough to get a loss," Jefferson said. "But we played well enough to get a win tonight. We made a lot of mistakes."
Utah (41-38) went into the game leading the Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. However, with L.A.'s home court victory over New Orleans on Tuesday, the Lakers now own a half-game lead with three left to play.
On the heels of Sunday's must-have road victory at Golden State, the Jazz were riding an emotional high as they prepared to face the Thunder (57-21), one of the NBA's best teams.
Jefferson and his teammates felt they'd be challenged all night, but believed they could beat the Thunder -- as they did here on Feb. 12 -- if they played well defensively.
To that end, they did, which explains Jefferson's dour demeanor.
The Jazz made pests of themselves, holding OKC to just 39 percent shooting. But they could do no better themselves, shooting the same percentage.
What's more, they recorded 17 turnovers, including six as they were outscored 26-19 in the first quarter.
Kevin Durant had 21 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists and teammate Russell Westbrook added 25 points and five assists to pace the Thunder, who shot 32-for-81 from the field.
Power forward Serge Ibaka scored 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter.
Utah got within four points -- 84-80 -- but the truth is, the Thunder were in control the entire time.
When the Jazz drew close with 23 seconds left, Durant calmly sank a pair of free throws and Westbrook stole a Jazz inbounds pass and raced the length of the floor for a dunk.
"They played great defense, all around," Jefferson said.
Jefferson had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Jazz and point guard Mo Williams had 19 points and six assists.
Gordon Hayward added 17 points, five boards and three assists.
Utah played only eight men, in large part because reserves Marvin Williams (flu) and Alec Burks (ankle sprain) missed the game.
Earlier in the day the team announced promising backup center Enes Kanter would miss the remainder of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery today in Chicago.
"It was a tough game, it was a defensive game," Mo Williams said. "Defensive games can be like that sometimes."
Like the Jazz, OKC shot just 39 percent from the field, but the Thunder went 9-for-21 from behind the 3-point line and won the rebounding battle, 46-43.
Utah took 25 3s, making only seven.
The depleted Jazz bench was just 4-for-14 from the field.
"I thought we did a great job of forcing them into shots they didn't want to shoot," Mo Williams said. "They did vice versa to us. That's the way the game's played today."
Perhaps if the game had been played during the first month of the season, folks on the Utah side might consider such a gritty defensive effort as some sort of a moral victory or, at worst, a positive sign.
But not this time. Not with the playoffs hanging in the balance.
"I thought the fight we had defensively was nice," Hayward said.
"We've got to be able to execute more offensively and attack them a little bit more. I thought we played too passively in the first half."