It's been more than 20 years since the Utah Jazz have appeared in the NBA Finals, and that was when John Stockton and Karl Marlone were two halves of one of the best duos in the league. Now, the Jazz feature a squad led by Donovan Mitchell who helped the team finish the 2020-21 regular season with the best record in the Western Conference. PopCulture.com recently caught up with Mitchell, who revealed how the Jazz can reach the Finals for the first time since 1998.
"I've never won in the second round," Mitchell told PopCulture. "Now the goal is conference finals and finals. That's it, that's the bar where we're at. So it's easy to come in with that mindset when everybody's on the same agenda, the same page. And the last two playoffs here really left a bad taste in everybody's mouth. So I think, whether it was losing 3-1 to Denver, and then this one, the way it ended, I think is definitely... Being up 2-0 on a situation we felt like we had control, and kind of let the lead get away."
Mitchell is referring to the Jazz losing to the Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals last season. After taking a 2-0 lead, the Clippers won the next four games to reach the Conference Finals against the Pheonix Suns. Mitchell did everything he could to get the Jazz in the third round of the playoffs, averaging 34 points, four rebounds and four assists in the series.
"I think we're coming back with a vengeance" Mitchell said. "But obviously, I can say that we better go out there and put the work in and continue to do it because teams are loading up around us. Golden State's back, LA is obviously doing what they're doing. But we got to be ready. I think Phoenix is the defendant conference champions, so we got to find a way to continue to build and get better. But I think we have the pieces to do it. Just got to stay healthy for one, and continue to put the work in."
Mitchell's drive and motivation come from his mother who is a retired school teacher. He has teamed up with Clorox to celebrate teachers through the brand's $1,000,000 donation to DonorsChoose, getting funds to teachers to clear their supply wish list for classrooms as they go back to school this fall.
"Right when COVID really hit. Right after I had it and when I was at the house for three months, I watched my mom work from the house, and I had an appreciation for teachers and what my mom did," Mitchell revealed. "But when you sit there and watch the continuous hours put into slideshows and doing these different things, and having to do it virtually. And then going to the store, picking up supplies, I think that for me was like, 'Man, she's working her tail off.' And I just had a greater appreciation for teachers after that.
"...Teachers are the unsung heroes," Mitchell continued. "Teachers are people who can continue to just do it out of their own heart, out of love, you know? And I think they spend around $500 to $600 of their own [money], out of their own pocket for supplies, and for school supplies. And that just in its own speaks to how teachers are so loving and caring."