Things escalated quickly from there.
The Brooklyn Nets scored seven straight points and a dust-up between Andre Drummond and the Nets' Quincy Acy seemed to give the Brooklyn crown some energy and the Nets some added incentive.
The Pistons' lead shrunk to six before things got back under control and they held on for a 108-96 victory on Sunday night at Barclays Center, behind their point guards.
Reggie Jackson had a season-high 29 points and Ish Smith and Stanley Johnson 17 points each for the Pistons (37-40), who swept the weekend back-to-back in New York and have won five straight and seven of their last eight.
They pulled within four games of the eighth-place Miami Heat for the final playoff spot in the East, with five games to go.
Despite the large margin, a win wasn't a sure thing, especially after the fracas between Drummond and Acy with 18.4 seconds left in the third quarter. The two were tangled up after Smith missed a jumper and Acy grabbed Drummond.
After Drummond pushed Acy away, the officials looked to get between the players, Acy broke loose and went after Drummond, but was restrained by teammate Joe Harris. Both players were assessed technical fouls and were ejected.
Drummond, who finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds, ripped off his jersey as he headed for the locker room.
Coach Stan Van Gundy said he didn't get a good explanation from the officials about why Drummond was ejected.
"I haven't seen it (on replay)," Van Gundy said. "(The officials) said they both pushed each other, so I don't know. We'll wait and see."
The double ejection favored the Nets, who lost a reserve, while the Pistons lost one of the best players. Moreland finished with some energy on the defensive end, having to play all but 11 seconds of the final period.
"We could see that as either a negative or positive when one of our players got kicked out," Nets center Jarrett Allen said, "but we saw it as a positive and we tried to boost our energy to come back."
The Nets (25-52) trailed, 83-70, heading to the fourth and scored the first five points, with Allen (15 points) splitting a pair of free throws, Harris (15 points) making a free throw after a technical foul on Moreland and DeMarre Carroll (11 points) hitting a 3-pointer.
The Pistons' defense picked up from there. They held the Nets to 36-percent shooting (9-of-25) in the fourth quarter and seemed more engaged on that end of the floor.
"The defense was good. Both teams were on fumes going down the stretch," Van Gundy said. "We were just walking the ball up the floor. We had no pace, nothing. But we just grinded it out, so it was a good win.
"After the first couple plays of the fourth, Eric went out and got a bad foul and then he calmed down and he played extremely well in the fourth quarter."
Luke Kennard hit a jumper but Allen added a corner 3-pointer to pull within eight.
The Pistons got back in it with Jackson's back-to-back baskets, which started a 6-3 spurt. Caris LeVert had a three-point play and after a back-door cut from Kennard, LeVert (10 points) added a 3-pointer and after another Jackson jumper, D'Angelo Russell (13 points, seven assists) connected on another 3-pointer, getting the Nets within 93-87 with 2:37 left.
But Jackson was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three free throws and Johnson got a steal and dunk to push the lead back to double digits, 98-87, with 2:01 left.
Anthony Tolliver had 10 points and a season-best 12 rebounds, which was a big boost with Drummond out.
"Sometimes you just have to figure out a way to win. Whenever things are not going your way or you have some guys out, you just have to figure out a way to win and have guys step up," Tolliver said.