Following losses to the New York Knicks and a crushing defeat to the Miami Heat on Tuesday, the Pistons had lost eight of nine and had fallen three games behind the Heat and Indiana Pacers for the final playoff spot in the East.
Their chance to get back on the winning track was reasonable enough: beating a Nets squad that had won just 16 games all season. But two of those wins were over the Pistons, including a last-second winner last week in Brooklyn.
The Pistons turned things around, behind Marcus Morris, who had 28 points and tied his season high with 13 rebounds, boosting the Pistons to a 90-89 victory over the Nets on Thursday night at The Palace.
The win kept the dwindling playoff embers lukewarm for the Pistons (35-41), who play the second of a back-to-back on Friday night at Milwaukee.
Ish Smith added a season-best 21 points — including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 28.5 seconds left — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 12. The two combined for 10 of the Pistons' 14 points during a critical stretch in the third quarter, when they used a turned a five-point deficit into a 57-53 lead.
But the Nets (16-58) answered with a quick 7-0 run over the next three minutes, with a 3-pointer by former Piston Spencer Dinwiddie (11 points), a drive by Sean Kilpatrick (15 points) and a 3-pointer by Trevor Booker, for a 61-57 Nets lead.
The Nets led, 63-59, entering the fourth quarter, but the Pistons started with an 11-3 spurt, spurred by a jumper from Darrun Hilliard, a 3-pointer by Tobias Harris and a lay-in by Aron Baynes.
Morris added a driving lay-in and two free throws for a 70-66 advantage. Kilpatrick responded with back-to-back jumpers to tie it.
The Pistons made a 10-2 run and looked to gain control, taking their largest lead of the game, 80-76, after a drive by Ish Smith and a reverse lay-in by Jon Leuer. They added a drive by Smith and a 3-pointer by Morris for the six-point advantage but the Nets had another answering run.
Jeremy Lin (14 points) scored on a drive and Dinwiddie got a steal and dunk. After Lin's drive and a 3-pointer by Brook Lopez (11 points and nine rebounds), the Nets were ahead, 83-80.
Morris ended the run with a jumper by Lopez followed by another 3-pointer with 1:34 left, pushing the lead to four. Smith cut the lead in half with a jumper and then made the corner 3-pointer for the lead with 28.5 seconds left. Harris was fouled and made both free throws for a three-point lead.
On the Nets' inbounds play, Morris got a steal and was fouled. He split the pair of free throws for a 90-86 lead and Justin Hamilton hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the final margin.
The Pistons got off to a slow start, going just 1-of-10 from the field. They trailed, 12-7, midway through the quarter and after drives by Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (14 points), they had their biggest deficit, 16-9. Detroit finished the period with a 9-2 run to cut the lead to 18-16.