2024 NBA Playoffs Takeaways: Anthony Edwards wins Day 1 of playoffs

Phoenix Suns v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game One
Phoenix Suns v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game One

Things move fast in the NBA playoffs, so to help you stay on top of things, from now through at least the end of the second round, we will have nightly takeaways from the postseason action.

Anthony Edwards is him

Whatever "it" is — that indescribable star quality that separates the true elite showmen from mere mortals — Anthony Edwards has more of it than just about anyone in the league.

It's not just that Edwards can take over a game — like he did in the third quarter against the Suns on Saturday — it's the energy with which he does it. Edwards plays with a joy and enthusiasm that lifts up an entire building. How much joy? Watch him hit the big shot, and then start chirping at his childhood idol and favorite player, Kevin Durant.

Minnesota is up 1-0 on Phoenix partly because of their league-best defense — their length clearly bothered Phoenix's shooters. Devin Booker was 5-of-16 from the field, Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon combined to go 0-of-8 on the night.

However, defense is just half the game. The question has been whether the Timberwolves can generate enough points to win four out of seven in a playoff series.

Enter Edwards, who took over and put the game out of reach in the third scoring 18 of his 33 points on the night.

I'm not sure Edwards qualifies as a breakout star — if you've had a major role in an Adam Sandler movie, you're already there — but if there was any doubt he's on a fast track to becoming one of the NBA's biggest stars, he put that to bed on Saturday.

There are adjustments the Suns need to make for Game 2. They have to play faster, get into their offense earlier and find a rhythm. But they also need to find a way to slow Edwards down, or the Suns will quickly be in a hole too deep to climb out of in this series.

Philadelphia needs Joel Embiid to be dominant

It feels a little simplistic to say a team needs its star to be dominant to win because that is true across the league and throughout NBA history — Denver needs Nikola Jokic to be dominant, the Mavericks need Luka Doncic to be dominant, the 90s Bulls needed Michael Jordan to be dominant.

It's different with Philadelphia, which depends more on a dominant Embiid than those other teams. Put another way:

Who are the 76ers when Joel Embiid isn't MVP-level dominant?

That's what we saw on Saturday. Embiid was good — 29 points and eight rebounds, and the Sixers were +14 when he was on the court — but he shot 8-of-22 from the floor and looked gassed by the end. He scared everyone with another apparent knee injury but returned for the second half and didn't seem slowed (there are no plans for more imaging). Embiid was good but not dominant. Tyrese Maxey was impressive and scored 31, but as we saw when Embiid was out after his meniscus surgery, Maxey being impressive isn't near enough, and now the Sixers are in a 0-1 hole to the Knicks.

Compare that to the Knicks. Jalen Brunson was off his game in the series opener, shooting 8-of-26 on his way to 22 points, but the Knicks know who they are and what style they're trying to play. New York's identity is clear. They had role guys who could step up and make the plays needed to win — Josh Hart, Deuce McBride and others.

Philly needs more out of Tobias Harris and others in this series — it can't lose the non-Embiid minutes by 21, as happened Saturday. The Sixers need a system that maximizes those other guys on nights Embiid is off so they can get wins on more than just raw talent.

That's not coming this postseason, the 76ers are who they are. Which means if Philadelphia is going to win this series, Embiid needs to be MVP-level dominant. Just good is not going to be good enough.

Denver has another gear nobody in the West can match

In their other meetings with the Lakers this season — and going back to last season's playoffs — the Nuggets generally waited for the final six minutes of the game to throw it into a higher gear and pull away from LeBron James' Lakers.

Saturday night, they did it in the third quarter, winning the frame by 14 points to lead by a dozen heading into the fourth. The Lakers made little runs in the fourth but the game was never really in doubt and the Nuggets are now up 1-0 in the series.

I live in Laker fan country and have seen my friends talk themselves into "Lakers in six" and how this season was going to be different because LeBron and Anthony Davis were fresher and the Lakers' offense more potent. There would be no Dennis Schroder this time around. I would just smile and nod, knowing what was coming. Those fans got their wish, as the Lakers threw their best punch to open this game and led by double digits for much of the second quarter.

Then, late in the second and into the third, the Nuggets threw it in their higher gear, one the Lakers can't match — nor can anyone else in the West, and maybe the entire league. The thing is that higher gear is mostly just relentlessly perfect execution of their system and the game plan. On defense, the Nuggets in the third quarter did focus better with their starters, blitzed LeBron and Anthony Davis to make D'Angelo Russell and others try to beat them. On offense, the Nuggets focused more on hunting Russell and Austin Reaves. Still, it just comes down to execution. Denver keeps making the right plays, the right extra pass, they don't beat themselves, and they know eventually the shots will fall. Nobody else can match that execution.

The Lakers — particularly Russell — can't. Not consistently. Laker fans are right, this is a better version of their team, but what has to worry those fans is the Lakers came out and threw their best punch to open Game 1 on the road, the Nuggets absorbed it and still won a game by enough there was some garbage time at the end. Denver is just better, it has that higher gear. The Nuggets will go to it three more times in this series, then move on to their next victim.