It's time to quit being satisfied just to be here
• Is this the end for Reggie?
• Series notes
• Pistons want to finish it
Maybe they've fallen too far in love with their own little fairy tale. Maybe the Indiana Pacers have come to accept the notion that they've done far more than anybody expected, and if they lost tonight, ending both the season and Reggie Miller's career, there will be no shame, no regret.
Maybe it's on those of us who've pushed that story line, that this is a never-say-die, little-team-that-could group that has overcome so much already, it's ridiculous to ask for them to overcome any more by stretching this to a seventh game in Auburn Hills, Mich.
(It's always the media's fault. We're too mean. We're too nice. We just can't get it right.)
So here's the first thing the Pacers have to do tonight, before they stretch, before they engage in the rest of their pregame rituals:
Stop being satisfied.
And resolve that if the Pistons are going to beat them, it's going to happen on a night when the Pacers are leaving their best game on the Conseco Fieldhouse floor.
"We can't get happy with just being here," Stephen Jackson said Wednesday. "I mean, why? We're 11 (actually 10) wins from being NBA champions. How can you not see that? We're just two games from going to the Eastern Conference finals. How can you not see that? That (accepting a second-round playoff elimination) shouldn't even be an option."
It's a matter of altered perspectives: This team has spent so much time this season scaling the mountain, they become transfixed with how far they've come and lost sight of how little is left before they reach the summit.
It takes 12 victories to get to the NBA Finals. Right now, they have six victories. Halfway. After coming this far, the rest of the journey doesn't seem that long or tortuous, does it?
And yet, these past two games, the Pacers' lack of poise and effort has been shocking, especially from a group that has made a habit of bringing it almost every night.
One theory persists that they're out of physical and emotional gas, that they've been through so much with the suspensions stemming from the Nov. 19 brawl and their key injuries, there is nothing left.
There's some truth to that.
Look, your two guard is 39, your center is 36, your point guard is playing on wobbly legs and your power forward has a shoulder that still doesn't seem completely healed. The out-of-gas scenario is plausible.
Another theory is that this has nothing to do with empty tanks or broken parts, but that the defending champions are just that much better than the Pacers. How many of the Pacers' starters could start for Detroit? Jermaine O'Neal, yes. Jackson, maybe. Everybody else? Forget about it.
So yes, there's some truth there.
Now, though, there's another theory that's starting to make sense, and that's the one that suggests the Pacers have become a little bit fat and satisfied with a season that already has surpassed expectations. Let's face it: They lose tonight, they're not going to get ripped. Win or lose, they've won the public's adoration and respect.
And yet, a third straight gruesome effort would be completely out of character.
"If we had been a team that was willing to give in to lowered expectations, we would have packed it in a long time ago," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "There was every excuse in the world to pack it in going back to Nov. 20 and we just haven't."
Thus . . . The Guarantee.
Because they've always responded in the past. And it's hard to imagine they won't respond with a manic effort tonight, coming together one more time for Reggie, for this team and for a fan base that has supported them in greater numbers than even last year's 61-victory team.
But, then, you never know. We haven't known all postseason. These series are tougher to read than a James Joyce novel.
Before Tuesday night's Game 5 at the Palace, Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh was asked if he's ever had a playoff team as relentlessly inconsistent as this one.
He shook his head quickly.
"Never," he said. "I've never had a team where we didn't have any idea, from night to night, how they would play. But this really isn't surprising with all the different players and lineups we've had. You forget, Jamaal (Tinsley) and Dale (Davis) had never even played together before the fifth game of the (first-round) Boston (playoff) series."
My hope is that no matter what happens, the crowd resists the temptation to beat the traffic and stays until the end, win or lose, remaining to pay tribute not only to Miller, but to a team that has represented this area in an inspired and classy way after its embarrassing actions Nov. 19.
At the very least, "Reggie! Reggie!" needs to echo throughout the Fieldhouse one final time.
They've come this far because they refused to believe that mediocrity was good enough, even after the post-Nov. 19 madness. Now, they've got to dispense with the notion -- however true -- that taking the Pistons to six games is more than enough.
Sunday. Palace. Be there.