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Unsung Hero: Frank Ntilikina Boosts Mavs Defense vs. Suns

The Dallas Mavericks’ series against the Phoenix Suns changed when Frank Ntilikina entered the rotation.

The NBA playoffs are a lot of fun, not only because we get to witness the greatest basketball superstars in the world go head-to-head on a nightly basis, but also because of the unforeseen contributors that can leave an impact on a series.

Frank Ntilikina has been one of those guys for the Dallas Mavericks, who prepare to take on the league-best Phoenix Suns in a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday at Footprint Center. He might not be putting up big scoring numbers, but his impact on the defensive end of the court has been undeniable.

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"Games 3, 4 and 6 have been similar. 1, 2 and 5 have been similar. Here at home, we held them – defense was great," said coach Jason Kidd. "Everyone participated. Frank [Ntilikina] was great. I thought the starters set the tone."

Ntilikina didn't score a single point in the Mavs' 113-86 blowout of the Suns in Game 6, but he tallied four steals in 22 minutes of play and was a +9 while spending a lot of time guarding Devin Booker. Fore the series, Ntilikina has been the primary defender on Booker for 29 possessions and has held him to just 16 percent shooting in those one-on-one matchups.

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In the points per 100 possessions category, the Mavs' defense has been a full 15 points better with Ntilikina on the floor vs. when he's on the bench. When he hasn't been in the games this series, the Mavs have given up 116.5 points per 100 possession, whereas they've only given up 101.5 with him thrown into the action.

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As much as the Mavs would like second-year guard Josh Green to be ready for the moment, he just simply isn't there yet. Green (21) might be younger than Ntilikina (23) with a little more potential, but Ntilikina is the more prepared player for this particular moment given his five years of experience. And although Ntilikina won't put up big offensive numbers, he's more under control on that end and has much larger sample size of being able to hit 3s.

The Mavs have a lot going for them heading into Game 7 in Phoenix, including Doncic's historic points per game average when facing elimination (39.0) and Reggie Bullock rediscovering his stroke from deep.

But to pull off this big of a series upset, Dallas will need well-rounded efforts from all of its role players... especially from unsung hero Ntilikina with how he's guarded the Suns' best player.