Reporting from Oklahoma City -- Nobody would have predicted this when the Lakers gathered for training camp seven months ago, the franchise's 15th championship still at the front of their minds, along with animated talk of a possible record-setting regular season ahead of them.
Flash forward to Saturday, where the Lakers found themselves at the lowest point of their title-defending season, losing again to Oklahoma City amid a haze of blurry white jerseys and eardrum-splitting fans.
The Lakers didn't lose as much as they got flattened at Ford Center, 110-89, trailing by as many as 29 points while their best-of-seven series got tied up at 2-2.
Kobe Bryant had only 12 points, their plan to pound the ball down low was fully unsuccessful, and a top-seeded team has lost a series to an eighth-seeded team only three times in 52 chances in NBA history, a reality that needed to be revisited after another Lakers flop.
Game 5 is Tuesday at Staples Center, perhaps the only kind words to be said about the Lakers on Saturday.
Bryant had a peculiar game, making five of 10 shots and getting four assists in 31 minutes. He was in facilitator mode most of the time, apparently buying into the game plan of feeding the big men, for better or worse.
"I was managing the game exactly how I wanted to," Bryant said. "Unfortunately, it got away from us. I wasn't able to do what I normally do at the end of the game and close games out."
Bryant left for the locker room near the midpoint of the fourth quarter to begin treatment on a variety of lingering injuries.
"We've got a long flight," he said. "It's important for me to get in there and do [treatment] early and ... get back home."
The plan to get the post players involved didn't exactly work.
Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum had identical stats, each scoring 13 points on five-for-10 shooting, not nearly enough of a boost against a young, frothing Thunder defense.
The Lakers wanted more free throws after a large disparity in Game 3, but they wasted many trips to the line in Game 4, making only 17 of 28 (60.7%). Oklahoma City was a staggering 42 for 48 from the line and almost tied the Lakers' playoff opponent record of 43 made free throws by Boston in 1984.
"There's not much to say about this game," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "They took it to us. Even their free-throw defense was great tonight."
Jackson was hopeful that Ron Artest and Lamar Odom would step up, saying beforehand that Gasol and Bryant needed "a couple guys to chip in and help out."
Odom had 12 points and Artest had only five on two-for-nine shooting, continuing to miss three-point shots at an alarming rate, now three for 23 in the series (13%) after missing all four from long distance Saturday.
The first quarter had belonged firmly to the Lakers this series, but then came Saturday, the Thunder grabbing a 29-17 lead. Bryant had no points and no shots in the quarter as the Lakers began trying to pound the ball down low, with varying degrees of success.
The Thunder, which got 22 points from Kevin Durant and 18 from Russell Westbrook, led by 15 when Bryant took his first shot, a successful three-pointer, with 9:06 left in the second quarter.
The Lakers were still in trouble early in the third quarter, down 58-42 after Thabo Sefolosha made three free throws after being fouled by Bryant on a shot beyond the arc.
It only got worse for the Lakers.
They actually outscored the Thunder in the paint, 44-36, but were practically run off the court, the Thunder destroying them in fastbreak points, 24-2.
It was a bad night for the Lakers in a series that might also be heading that way for them.