MIAMI -- For the fleeting moment, when Richard Jefferson crumpled to the floor, clutching his ankle, it was like they let the air out of a balloon.
Everything stopped for these Nets. Everyone gasped. Tim Walsh, the trainer, leaned over Jefferson. Nets coach Lawrence Frank stood in the background. For a moment, this looked downright frightening.
Everyone else on these Nets, they stopped pounding the Heat for a moment and begged the fates to spare them the cruelest of derailments. Everything had been running so furiously, so fast, and now it had come to a most startling stop.
Jefferson was down, soon leaving the floor for X-Rays on his right ankle that turned out to be negative Monday night. His 20 points in 23 minutes had been like a hurricane hitting Biscayne Bay, his five assists, four rebounds and two steals going a long way to balancing this 100-88 beatdown of the Heat. The Nets snapped control of this series, something that is suddenly flimsy unless Jefferson makes a swift return to the conference semifinals.
They're forever celebrating Vince Carter on the crosscourt wing, but it is Jefferson that delivers the speed, the athleticism, the inability of teams to spend too much time chasing Carter with extra defenders. It was no accident that the Nets 28-point lead would be whittled to nine by the fourth quarter, a reminder that nothing moves efficiently for these Nets with Jefferson away from the flow with Jason Kidd and Carter.
Jefferson started hitting shots on Antoine Walker, and never stopped abusing him. "He looked like he was going to make them all," Pat Riley sighed later.
After the game, Jefferson was wearing a walking boot to protect the ankle. As far as he could tell, "there is no swelling," Jefferson said. Still, there was no telling what would happen overnight and into Wednesday. At best, it would probably be tender.
Nevertheless, the Nets constructed themselves a cushion on Monday night, shutting down Shaq and threatening to deliver a crushing blow to Riles' fading dreams of a championship parade on Biscayne Bay.
As Nets coach, Lawrence Frank said, "Richard set a great tone for us."
Yes, everything started with Jefferson attacking, attacking and attacking on Monday night, something that sometimes seems so unfair with Carter across the floor, with the Nets looking like a blue-and-red blur pushing past on the run. All started with Jefferson, and all ended when he disappeared to the dressing room. They need him back in this series, need him back fast.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj10@aol.com. His book, "The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty," is now available in paperback.