LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts from the bench in his team's loss to the Boston Celtics during the fourth quarter in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 13, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts. LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts from the bench in his team's loss to the Boston Celtics during the fourth quarter in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 13, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts. LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts from the bench in his team's loss to the Boston Celtics during the fourth quarter in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 13, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo: Maddie Meyers/Getty Images)

When the stakes are high, are NBA players more likely to rally – or choke?

A study examined what happens when teams are playing in an elimination game.

When you become overly focused on completing a task, rather than just doing it, what tends to happen?

You choke, right?

It's a phenomenon that's plagued athletes, executives, celebrities, students – practically all manner of folks. High-stakes competition can play out in a number of ways and affect participants wildly differently.

But the results, as it turned out, are far from random. A new study from scientists at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, found that teams – specifically basketball teams competing in the recent NBA playoffs – are more likely to lose when the threat of elimination is looming.

Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors talks to Stephen Curry (left) during a game against the Detroit Pistons. Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors talks to Stephen Curry (left) during a game against the Detroit Pistons. (Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

The team analyzed 1,930 playoff games over several years to test one prediction: that teams would perform better when their backs are against the wall; in other words, they would be more likely to win critical playoff games where losing meant their elimination.

The researchers found that if a home team had a 65% chance of winning during the playoffs, this was reduced to 55% in games that were critical for the home team, but not the away team. However, if the game was critical for the guest team, and not the home team, the home team's win probability increased to almost 74%.

Lebron James goes to the basketball during Game 2 of the 2015 NBA Finals. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, are favorite to win the championship this year. LeBron James goes to the basketball during Game 2 of the 2015 NBA Finals. (Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

"The results from our analysis are relevant to the workforce and many other domains," says Israeli professor Yair Galily, who led the study. "We suggest that leaders and managers should refrain from deliberately building high-pressure environments to try to enhance performance in their subordinates. They should adopt the 'just do it and enjoy' path."

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