New Jersey owned a 74-67 lead after Kidd sank a jumper with 3:05 left before Detroit stormed back to tie the game on a pair of free throws by Chauncey Billups with 22 seconds remaining.
Following a timeout, Kidd stood well outside the top of the arc and milked the clock before dribbling toward the right side. After passing Billups, Kidd dribbled toward the baseline and launched a high-arcing jumper over 7-foot center Mehmet Okur.
The ball circled the rim before dropping through the net.
"It was cleared out on the right side," Kidd said. "My thought was, when I saw Okur in front of me, now my job was to get it up there."
Nets forward Kenyon Martin started on the right block, set a pick and rolled to the basket for a potential offensive rebound. But the Nets did not need it.
"K-Mart can jump with the best of them, so I was going to take my chances with `K' tipping it in to win and move on, or if you miss we go into overtime," Kidd said.
The Pistons called a pair of timeouts around Tayshaun Prince's inability to inbound. Following the second timeout, the first-year forward launched a lob to the right side of the rim, where Okur outjumped Richard Jefferson and tipped the ball with his right hand.
Okur missed the initial tip but gathered the rebound and two-handed a second shot off the backboard. But the ball hit the left side of the rim and bounced away, allowing the Nets to celebrate.
"I think it was a good pass," Okur said. "I just tried to catch it the first time, but I missed the first one and tried to tip the second one but it didn't go in."
"I recognized the switch on the other side and I just tried to put it right at the rim for him to go get it," Prince said. "It was a great play. He was down on himself for missing it but there were plenty of things that happened before that play."
Martin contributed 16 points and nine rebounds and Kidd 15, nine and seven assists for the Nets, who have won seven straight playoff games. Four of those have come on the road.
Richard Hamilton had 24 points to pace Detroit, which had won 16 of its last 17 home games over New Jersey and six in a row at The Palace in the postseason since losing Game 1 of its first-round series with Orlando.
"Great players make great shots," Hamilton said of Kidd's jumper. "We had two guys on him, he had to shoot over a 7-footer in Mehmet and he made a big-time play. We put ourselves in a situation with the game tied up and if we get that stop we go to overtime. He made a great shot."
In a game that featured several lengthy field-goal droughts by both teams, New Jersey shot 40 percent and Detroit 35.
"We know this series is not going to be a series where there is a lot of up-and-down, a lot of dunks, a lot of fast breaks, a lot of alley-oops," Nets Coach Byron Scott said.
"It's going to be a tough, physical basketball series. That's how they play and that's how we play. It's going to be times where it's just ugly basketball."
New Jersey, which had a five-day layoff after sweeping Boston in the conference semifinals, jumped to an 18-6 lead on a follow basket by Jefferson with 2:44 to play in the first quarter.
Okur entered and scored eight points to help the Pistons pull within 22-16 entering the second period.
The Nets led by 43-36 at the break but came up cold in the third, allowing the Pistons to take a 63-53 lead on a layup by Ben Wallace with 26 seconds to play in the period.
But New Jersey scored the final two points of the quarter and the first 10 of the fourth, grabbing a 65-63 lead on a pair of free throws by Aaron Williams with 9:04 to play.
After Hamilton made a layup with 7:54 to play to even the contest, the Pistons again went cold from the floor, failing to sink a basket until Hamilton's runner in the paint got Detroit within 74-72 with 55 seconds left.
"We did a decent job in the fourth quarter getting stops, making it easier on ourselves than we did in the second and third quarters," Martin said. "We came out in the fourth quarter and just wanted to change it around."
The Pistons were two of 19 from the floor in the final period.
Okur scored 12 points -- four after the first quarter -- and Billups 11. Detroit made only 20 of 30 free-throw attempts.
Ben Wallace grabbed 22 rebounds but scored only six points and connected on just 2-of-7 attempts from the stripe for Detroit.
Corliss Williamson and Prince each shot just two of 10 from the field and finished with eight and seven points, respectively.
New Jersey, which defeated Boston in six games in the conference finals last season, outscored Detroit on the break, 28-4, and in the paint, 42-24.
"We got in a hole early because we allowed them to get out into transition," Pistons coach Rick Carlisle said. "They had 18 or 20 transition points in the first half, which is way too many.
"When you get to this level of the playoffs, playing in the third round, you have to do things really hard and you have to do things really well. Our execution for the whole game is going to have to be better."
The Pistons, who beat Philadelphia on the road in overtime on Friday night to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1991, fell to 6-1 in the postseason when leading after three quarters.
"It's disappointing to lose, without question," Carlisle said. "We understand Game One is an important game. We have been down before and we are going to have to bounce back, as simple as that."
Game 2 will be Tuesday night in Auburn Hills.
"(Kidd) has hit a lot of big ones in his career but that's the biggest shot for us," Scott said. "It gives us home-court advantage now. As we always have said, we want the first game. We want to make sure in Game 2 that we make some adjustments and try to win that game also."