Fans and pundits predict a Finals rematch in 2016

THE disappointment was almost palpable at the Quicken Loans Arena as a last-ditch effort by the hometown Cleveland Cavaliers team fell short.

That gave the Golden State Warriors a 105-97 victory in Game 6 to win the National Basketball Association Finals 4-2 and clinch their first title since 1975.

But fans in Cleveland, such as 13-year-old Aseem Palekar, held their heads high.

"Despite all the injuries they suffered and all the weight put on LeBron James' shoulders, our team still fought hard right until the very end," he said.

"The Cavaliers will be back next year."

Indeed, following the best-of-seven Finals that saw the Cavaliers take a 2-1 lead before a heart-wrenching Game 4 home loss, fans and sports analysts alike were already predicting a rematch in 2016.

Injuries to two of their best players - Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love - earlier in the play-offs left the Cavaliers short-handed.

By contrast, the Warriors lived up to their Finals slogan - Strength In Numbers.

Stephen Curry, the NBA's regular-season Most Valuable Player, was at full strength and finally showed it in Games 5 and 6 with 37 and 25 points respectively.

However, it was team-mate Andre Iguodala who was named Finals MVP, even though he did not start the first three games of the series.

His eventual inclusion ignited the Warriors' surge as his defensive nous and infectious energy sparked a three-game winning run to seal the title.

James outdid both Warriors on the stats sheet in Game 6, by scoring not just 32 points but also pulling down 18 rebounds and doling out nine assists.

At age 30, he is the youngest player to score 5,000 career NBA play-off points, faster than the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Next year, he will be back for Cleveland and if Irving can avoid injury and Love stays healthy, and with a year under the belt for rookie head coach David Blatt, the Cavaliers could repeat as Eastern Conference champions.

The young Warriors, who ran up the best record in the NBA this year, are expected to be the cream of the Western crop of teams next season too.

But they probably would not relish meeting the Cavaliers again.

Game 6 was as good an example why as any.

Although Golden State went up by 13 in the first quarter, Cleveland cut the lead to two by the half, then took a three-point lead after half-time.

The Warriors went back up by 14 early in the fourth quarter.

Still, the Cavaliers battled back to pull to within 101-97 with 33sec remaining.

"This is what we talked about, staying strong, staying with it," said Iguodala.

"They kept fighting."

Curry looked almost relieved as the Warriors celebrated on the Cavaliers' home court before a legion of their fans, who had travelled the length of the United States and paid exorbitant prices for front seats.

"World champions," Curry said. "This is something special. This is a special group."

Howard Washington, 55, and a lifelong Cavs fan, would have taken issue with that, though, as he hugged his wife Marshae after the game.

"You have 100 per cent Warriors against 60 per cent Cavaliers, and they gave them everything they got," he said, noting that he still felt good.

"Cleveland won the championship in my book."

zach@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2015, with the headline 'Fans and pundits predict a Finals rematch in 2016'. Print Edition | Subscribe