Auburn Hills — If the Pistons already weren’t at the low point of the season, they were teetering on the precipice in the past week.
Following a loss to the New York Knicks on Monday and to the Miami Heat on Tuesday, the Pistons had dropped eight of nine and had fallen three games behind the Heat and Indiana Pacers for the final playoff spot in the East.
Their road back to the winning track was reasonable enough: beating a Brooklyn 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.
They 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 ended a five-game losing streak and 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.
“I’m not saying it has been true every game in this stretch, but with things going as bad as they were, two games in a row, our guys have had resilience and really fought,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I’m happy to get the win. I thought our defense was really good.”
Ish Smith added a season-best 21 points — including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 28.5 seconds left — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 12 points. The two combined for 10 of the Pistons’ 14 points during a critical stretch in the third quarter, when they turned a five-point deficit into a 57-53 lead.
But the Nets (16-59) answered with a quick 7-0 run over the next 3 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 four-point Nets lead.
“We barely got this one,” Morris said. “To finally just get one, hopefully it can lead to more.”
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 with 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.
“They made some big shots and we didn’t,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Our execution was average, at best. I was just disappointed we weren’t sharing the ball a little better.”
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.