SALT LAKE CITY — Forget the final score.
Even though the Oklahoma City Thunder dropped Tuesday night's thriller at Utah, coming up short in a 140-139 overtime shootout, the message was sent — to the Jazz and the rest of the league.
This Thunder team is for real.
And when the playoffs begin in 1 1/2 weeks, any team still thinking they will toy with the young Thunder will have Tuesday's film to take in, analyze and realize they could have another thing coming.
In one of the league's toughest places to play — where fans seated in the lower bowl began cursing one another late in the game while bickering over viewing positioning — the Thunder showed off their most resiliency yet.
Oklahoma City battled back from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit and bounced back from one knockout punch after another.
The final haymaker, though, a 20-foot, game-winning jumper from the top of the key by Jazz point guard Deron Williams, proved too much.
Kevin Durant, who was marvelous in the fourth quarter, had one more chance to win it with 1.1 seconds remaining. But his 3-point attempt drew heavy contact from Jazz forward C.J. Miles only to be ruled a block by referee Tony Brothers as time expired.
Durant argued. Thunder coach Scott Brooks ran to halfcourt pleading his player's case. But confetti rained down from the rafters, prompting a celebratory sellout crowd of 19,911 to jubilantly applaud their own team's resiliency.
"Sometimes you get those, sometimes you don't," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, his no-excuses attitude seeping into the locker room and out of the mouths of his players. "We had a good opportunity to win the game. We didn't get a stop. That is the bottom line."
Durant scored a game-high 45 points, making 13 of 29 shots and 7 of 13 3-pointers. But it was his final attempt that overshadowed what otherwise was a classic. Durant, however, didn't complain after the game.
"It's not a foul if they didn't call it," he said before adding that he wasn't given an explanation. "Those guys are always right. You can't argue with it. The game's over. It's nothing you can do about it. I should have been stronger trying to get open. It is what it is."
Brooks said he won't appeal to the league office.
And with a pivotal game against Denver looming tonight inside the Ford Center the Thunder doesn't have time to let the controversial no-call linger. With all eight Western Conference playoff teams jumbled in a tight race for positioning, tonight's outcome will help determine whether the Thunder maintains its place, moves up or falls down.
Tuesday's defeat dropped the Thunder to seventh place. If the playoffs started today, Oklahoma City would face 2-seeded Utah. The Thunder won the season series 3-1.
"That's a good team," said Russell Westbrook. "That's one of the top teams in the league. I think we're right there with them. As long as we continue to play, we're going to be good."
It was Williams who controlled the Thunder's fate like no one else Tuesday. Williams scored or assisted on 15 of the Jazz's first 21 points, showing aggressiveness from the start, setting the tone by probing and penetrating and getting his teammates uncontested layups and 3-pointers.
Williams finished with 42 points and 10 assists in 42 minutes, turning the ball over just once. The Thunder had a defensive break down on his game-winner, allowing him ample room at the top of the key to calmly bury an uncontested jumper.
"It was a miscommunication," Durant said. "We were a little late. We were going to foul, but of course you don't want to foul in the act of shooting. But he made a tough shot, a fadeaway. That's what great players do. You've got to tip your hat to him."
Durant was just as brilliant and reclaimed the lead in the scoring race from Cleveland All-Star forward LeBron James. When Utah turned a six-point, third-quarter deficit into a one-time 10-point lead, Durant responded. The Jazz flipped a 65-63 halftime deficit into a 97-94 lead after three quarters partly because Durant went 2-for-6 in the third quarter.
But Durant bounced back in a big way by scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter. He hit two straight 3s and drew a 3-point play during a pivotal 14-4 run that turned a 118-107 deficit with 3:39 remaining in regulation to a 122-121 margin. His assist to Jeff Green on a 3-pointer with 8.3 seconds remaining sent the game into overtime.
The challenge now is to duplicate that same energy against a well-rested Nuggets squad that hasn't played since Saturday.
"We love playing. We're young, too," Durant said. "Of course after losing a tough one like this we don't want to come back and lose another one tomorrow. So we want to come out and burn as much energy as possible. If we leave it all on the floor, we'll live with the results."