Respecting the Past: 2 Former Titans of the Atlantic Division

Two games into the first-round matchup between the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks, and the most talked about players are Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Jeff Green.

That wasn't always the case. Around the turn of the century, two other players, who are both involved in this series, ruled the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

The Atlantic Division has been lorded over by the Celtics for five straight years, and the Knicks just won their first title since 1994.

It should come as little surprise that Jason Kidd was a part of that title-winning New York team. Winning the Atlantic is old-hat for him. He won four of them during the 2000s with the New Jersey Nets.

One of the Nets biggest rivals during that time was the Boston Celtics. More importantly, the Paul Pierce-led Boston Celtics. Pierce took home the Atlantic Division just once during Kidd's New Jersey tenure, in 2004-05. Of course, as soon as Kidd left, Boston reeled off those five straight crowns.

The Nets and Celtics engaged in two playoff series back in the early 2000s, one more interesting than the other. In those series, there was little else to talk about besides the play of Jason Kidd and Paul Pierce.

They are the fathers of this era of the Atlantic Division. This 2013 first-round
series is a nice reminder that they are still relevant, more than 10 years later.

In 2001-02, the Nets finished three games ahead of Boston for the divisional title and No. 1 overall seed. The Celtics took the No. 3 seed, as there were only two divisions per conference at the time.

The Celtics were able to knock of the No. 2 Detroit Pistons easy enough, (4-1) leading to a Eastern Conference Finals against Kidd's Nets.

When the dust settled, New Jersey had taken the series 4-2, but not without some epic battles.

For the series, Kidd averaged a triple-double. He went for 17.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 10.2 assists. He was absolutely incredible in the series, registering three triple-doubles in six games, including a 15-13-13 line in the series clincher.

In those same games, Paul Pierce averaged 23.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 43.8 minutes. He got to the free-throw line 13.2 times per game in the series, but went just four times in the Game 6 that ended the series.

Game 3 was one of the most memorable contests in Celtics history. Trailing 74-53 after three quarters, Pierce put the team on his back and outscored the Nets 19-16 himself in the final frame. Boston wound up winning 94-90, completing the biggest comeback in NBA playoff history.

The Nets went on to get swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals, but that Eastern Conference title match will always stick out in Pierce and Kidd's careers.

The following year, the two teams met again. This time it was a second-round fight, but the Nets were much better equipped. They topple Boston in four straight games.

The Nets again won the 2001-02 division title, with Boston five games behind. The No. 6 Celtics upset No. 3 Indiana Pacers to advance to the conference semifinals. There they again met Kidd's No. 2 Nets.

Both Kidd and Pierce were incredible again. Kidd posted a 19-9-9 line throughout the series, including a 29-point, 10-rebound and eight-assist game to clinch it.

It's truly a shame Pierce got so little help in the series, as it may have been his finest playoff performance ever. The Celtics' captain averaged 29 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.8 assists in the series. He played an astounding 46 minutes per game and got to the line 13.5 times each night.

That loss started the downfall of the Celtics, that eventually led to Pierce's ultimatum and the trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

Kidd had another few trips with the Nets. In his last season with the team, 2006-07, he took them through a second-round series against LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers. Though they lost in six games, Kidd again averaged a triple-double. He posted 14.9 points, 10.9 rebounds and 10.9 assists per game.

They are both much older now, and able to do far less on the basketball court, but beneath the surface of this Knicks-Celtics series, there is a foundation formed in 2001.

A foundation formed by two future Hall-of-Famers, now shooting their last jumpers before heading to Springfield.