Last night, the Toronto Raptors made history. After 24 years as a franchise, the team not only made it to the NBA Finals for the first time, but dethroned the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, in a 4-2 series win.

So, what was the Raptors’ secret sauce? We’ve pulled together six key lessons from the 2019 champs that apply not only to basketball, but also to anyone looking to win in sales.

Versatility Counts

In sales, we often focus on specialization and segmentation, whether it’s distinguishing between hunters/farmers and prospectors/closers, or seeking out domain experts to provide subject matter expertise. But we often undervalue a versatile team. The 2018-2019 Raptors are an exceptionally versatile team, with most defenders being able to guard multiple positions, and a diversified offense that allowed them to keep pace with the offensive superstar Warriors.

Lesson 1: Depth of skill and knowledge is important, but breadth and versatility lead to a stronger team.

Dig Out the Playbook

In high-pressure situations, it’s important to know your plays, and the right time to use them. Not every play needs to be elaborate, it just needs to be effective. Raptors coach Nick Nurse shocked basketball fans when he called a box-and-one defense in the fourth quarter of Game 2. More common when players are just learning the sport, the box-and-one is almost never seen in professional ball, but it proved effective in slowing down the Warriors, particularly Steph Curry, in the final minutes of the game.

Lesson 2: Know your plays, and don’t be afraid to run one that’s unconventional (or even “janky”) if it’s the right one.

Keep Calm and Work the Shot Clock

The Raptors are masters at working the clock. In Game 3, almost 20% of Raptors shots took place in the last four seconds of the shot clock. Even when the clock is ticking down, players such as Lowry, Van Vleet, and Leonard aren’t afraid the take the time, waiting for the right moment. In sales, we’re often working towards a shot clock of our own, such as quarter- or year-end, and as the time ticks down, it’s easy to panic and throw the ball away (aggressive tactics, deep discounts) when it’s not necessary.

Lesson 3: Don’t let the ticking clock pressure you into making moves that can jeopardize or diminish your deals.

Know How to Compete

One secret to Raptors success is knowing their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, and understanding what it means for their strategy. The Warriors are a strong team, and with their offensive power, rebounding, and shooting accuracy, the Raptors needed to double down on their defense and keep the Warriors out of the paint. While Toronto certainly displayed strong offensive performance throughout the series, knowing what they had to do to keep the Warriors at bay was key to the championship.

Lesson 4: It’s not enough to know your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. You need to understand how to apply those threats and opportunities to your own strategy in a competitive situation.

“Board Man Gets Paid”

This is more than just a pithy catchphrase from Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard. The phrase, originating during his time at San Diego State University, was Leonard’s mantra. What does it mean? “I used to say that back when I was in high school and college,” explains Leonard. “You know, just wanting to get to this league. It’s about working hard, basically, outworking the opponent. Rebounds help you win games. Big rebounds, offensive rebounds, limiting the team to one shot.”

Lesson 5: Know what it takes to get to the next level, and be willing to put in the work to get there.

Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork

Leonard. Siakam. Ibaka. Lowry. Van Vleet. None of these players, now household names, were top draft picks. Leonard was highest at 15th in the first round (the others were picked 27th, 24th, 24th respectively, with Van Vleet undrafted). But like Michael Jordan said, “A champion is made, not born”. Over their careers, these players have put in the work, and they are impressive players in their own right but, together, they’re magic. They showed up this season to play as a team and win a “gold ball”, and they did. And don’t underestimate the role of coaching in creating winners: in his first year as head coach of the Raptors, Nick Nurse coached the Raptors to their first NBA Finals appearance, and win.

Lesson 6: You can hire superstar players. But if you focus on hiring team players who are willing to put in the work and be open to coaching, you can grow your own superstar team.

We want to know: what lessons did you learn from the NBA Finals that you can apply to your job? Let us know in the comments! And, congratulations to the Toronto Raptors, the 2019 NBA Champions!

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