By Brian Robb, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) – Wednesday night was a rough night for Boston sports. While the Bruins were falling short in Game 7 to Montreal, two former beloved Celtics had their season come to a disappointing end as well.

It was the third time in the past four seasons that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce had a season-ending loss in South Beach. The Celtics blew fourth quarter leads in elimination games against Miami during the 2011 and 2012 postseason and the same story came into play last night for the duo with their new team. The Nets led by eight points with just over three minutes remaining, but a 12-0 run finished off the Nets, and perhaps Garnett and Pierce for good.

Ray Allen was at the center of it all, hitting a clutch go-ahead 3-pointer with under a minute remaining. He added a pair of free throws later, as Pierce and Garnett could hardly bear to watch from the bench.

Allen’s strong play in the elimination game was an exclamation point on his decision to leave Garnett and Pierce in Boston back in 2012. The sharpshooting guard already has a championship ring to justify the move and eliminating his former teammates last night likely gives Allen an extra sense of gratification after all the heat he has taken.

In a surprising move after the game, both Lebron James and Dwayne Wade gave praise to Garnett and Pierce in what may be their final head-to-head battle with the pair.

“I don’t think you can ever bury these guys,” Wade said of the pair after Game 5. “They are unbelievable competitors. I don’t even want to bury them. They bring something out of you. We’ve had some unbelievable battles with them. You can credit them for the team we are today. They were the team we had to get by in Boston. We had to learn how to win and be mentally tough. We’ve enjoyed our battles with them. You never know what’s going to happen next.”

James echoed Wade’s respectful tone in the same press conference.

“When I was in Cleveland, they were a hump I couldn’t get over,” James said. “I knew from that point I needed help. I felt like I would face those guys [for a long time]. For me to be in this position today, those guys challenged me and helped me become the player I am today since they challenged me in so many facets.”

The tribute for both players is well deserved by their long-time rivals as a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the future of both players.

Pierce made his intentions fairly clear last night to reporters in Miami. He wants to play again, maybe “another season or two.” Whether he’ll suit up for Brooklyn again remains to be seen though, as he enters this offseason as an unrestricted free agent. The Nets have limited means to improve their roster this offseason, due to dealing away draft picks in recent years, as well as CBA restrictions imposed due to their sky-high payroll.

At this point, I’d venture to say the only way Pierce returns to Brooklyn next year is if Garnett decides to return for one final hurrah. That’s far from a sure thing for the big man, who saw his skills decline sharply as he battled injuries throughout this season.

If Garnett does decide to call it a career this summer (he declined to speak with the media last night and today), Pierce could be one of the hotter free agents on the market this summer. Contenders in both conferences would be looking to add the savvy veteran if he wants one more shot at an NBA title. A return to Boston could be a fun swan song as well, if the price is right for Danny Ainge.

For now though, it’s time to reflect on the lifelong friends who may have just played their final game together, and the Celtics who decided to pull the plug on the Big Three era at the right time last season.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.




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