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Posted 07/02/2021 in Category 1 by Philip Solomon-Turay

Sport Psychology and the 2019 NBA Finals

Sport Psychology and the 2019 NBA Finals

The city of Toronto, Canada, is a city filled with a diverse community created from multiple ethnicities. From Caribbean and African decedents to the French-speaking locals, this major Providence located in the capital of the great north is a melting pot of different ethnical backgrounds. The basketball team located in the heart of this city, the Toronto Raptors, follows a similar path in their ethnically diverse players. From American, Nigerien, Spanish and England born players, the Toronto Raptors combine a unique mix of talent which brought them it's first NBA title in franchise history. In this blog, I will investigate this amazing feet and the sport psychological factors which affected the 2019 NBA Finals.


The Raptors came into the season with high expectations. Not as high as winning an NBA title, but a deep run in the playoffs was expected. With the team deciding to trade away a key franchise piece in DeMar DeRozan and fire their Coach of the year winner Dwane Casey, the basketball world wasn't too sure as to what heights this newly formed team would reach. Would it be another successful regular season followed by a disastrous playoff run? Would they go further with their newly acquired talent? Would their risks all be for nothing? All these questions were to be answered heading into the playoffs. 


The Raptors gained the number 2 seed in the eastern conference, giving them a good chance of having a deep run in the playoffs. They were met with heavy adversity within all the series they played. But in each series, they were able to work together as a cohesive unit and crack each code, leading them to capture the eastern conference championship and a ticket to the NBA Finals. They were met by the back to back champions and favourites to win it all again, the Golden State Warriors. With the odds stacked against them and a Golden State Warriors team chasing history (first three-peat in close to 20 years), the Toronto Raptors had to dig deep. With a city. No, a whole country supporting them, they were able to produce amazing play after amazing play and dethrone the champions; earning the 2019 NBA Championship. Looking into this final in more detail, there was a distinct sport psychological area in which I believe helped the Raptors win and an area as to why the Warriors lost. These were team cohesion for the Raptors and injuries for the Warriors. 


Team cohesion 

Team cohesion is the process of a group uniting together in pursuit of a common objective (Carron, Bray, & Eys, 2002). With multiple integral pieces of the Raptors only coming together this season, the team put an emphasis and focus on a common objective (winning a championship). This was explained by kawhi Leonard when talking about when he first got to the team after being traded, "I texted [a teammate] right after I got traded and I said let's go and do something special, let's make history and we're here today". This want to make history and win a title for Toronto was emphasised throughout the whole team. By setting this clear objective, the desired action was more likely to follow (Bray & Whaley, 2001). Aspects of team cohesion which the team used were effective team communication, team leadership and understanding roles within the team. With these psychological skills integrated within the team, a structure was in place to enable everyone to understand what they individually needed to do within the team. These skills were in effect throughout the entire series, when they were dominating in game 1, when it was neck and neck in game 3 and when they were trailing in game 4 of this 7 game series. This allowed the collective group to function optimally and achieve their goal.


On the Warriors side, Klay Thomson, Demarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant were three crucial pieces to the Warriors playing style who were all returning from injury within these finals. Psychological factors which could have negatively affected their performance was the fear of re-injury. This fear psychological restricts the movements athletes feel comfortable executing. With this restriction affecting their performance, this could then be a reason why they did not play at their best when it counted the most. Ultimately, two of these individuals went on to suffer catastrophic injuries in Klay Thomson with an ACL tear and Kevin Durant with an Achilles tear. Although multiple factors could affect injury and re-injury, sport psychology research could help in identifying why another injury occurred specifically in these two players. Williams & Anderson (2008) identified that athletes engaging in situations they perceive as fearful (e.g. having to use recently healed muscles), disrupts the fluidity of movements and increases the risk of injury and re-injury. With these two players out for the remainder of the series (and potentially next season), it was only a matter of time before the Raptors were going to clinch the title. 


In conclusion, the Raptors were against heavy odds and put all their chips to the centre with the decisions they made heading into this NBA season. With a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, they were able to put together a cohesive unit on the floor which was able to achieve something no other Raptors team has in franchise history. This should not be discredited due to the injury-plagued side they faced in the Golden State Warriors. It was a thoroughly entertaining series with many twists and turns and for the 2019 NBA season, the great north can put this in their history books.   



Bray, C. D., & Whaley, D. E. (2001). Team cohesion, effort, and objective individual performance of high school basketball players. The Sport Psychologist, 15(3), 260-275.

Carron, A. V., Bray, S. R., & Eys, M. A. (2002). Team cohesion and team success in sport. Journal of sports sciences, 20(2), 119-126.

Williams, J. M., & Andersen, M. B. (1998). Psychosocial antecedents of sport injury: Review and critique of the stress and injury model'. Journal of applied sport psychology, 10(1), 5-25.

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