The Globe and Mail
Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater on Sunday night is widely regarded as the greatest moment in Toronto Raptors history.
But where does the shot that gave the Raptors a win over the visiting Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of their second-playoff series rank all time among sporting moments for Toronto professional teams?
Of course, the argument could go on forever. But in a city that hasn’t tasted nearly as much playoff success as many North American counterparts, Leonard’s shot certainly joins a short list.
Here’s a recap of game-changing, successful plays for Toronto pro teams in sudden-death or close-out playoff contests:
1951, BILL BARILKO’S STANLEY CUP WINNER
Barilko’s diving backhander in overtime of Game 5 beat Montreal Canadiens goalie Gerry McNeill to give the Maple Leafs a 3-2 win at Maple Leaf Gardens.
It was the last game Barilko ever played. That summer, Barilko died in a plane crash after a fishing trip, though the wreckage of the crash wasn’t found until 1962.
The Tragically Hip retold the famous story in their song Fifty Mission Cap.
“Bill Barilko disappeared that summer,” the song says. “He was on a fishing trip. The last goal he ever scored won the Leafs the Cup. They didn’t win another ‘til 1962, the year he was discovered.”
1991, RAGHIB (ROCKET) ISMAIL’S KICKOFF RETURN
With the Calgary Stampeders mounting a charge and trailing by one in the Grey Cup in Winnipeg, the Argonauts’ marquee free agent signing delivered in a big way.
Ismail’s 87-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter gave the Argos some much-needed breathing room on the way to victory on a frigid day. One fan threw a beer can on the field that just missed hitting Ismail before he reached the end zone.
The Rocket was signed by the high-profile Argos ownership group of Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky and John Candy prior to the ‘91 season, keeping the projected first overall NFL draft pick out of that league.
The former Notre Dame star played two years with the Argos before heading to the NFL’s Los Angeles Raiders.
1993, NIKOLAI BORSCHEVSKY’S DEFLECTION
In overtime of Game 7 of a first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, Borschevsky headed to the net.
Leafs star Doug Gilmour fed a pass to Bob Rouse, whose shot was tipped past Red Wings goalie Tim Cheveldae by the diminutive Russian rookie to give Toronto the upset.
“This has been an unbelievable turn of events,” legendary broadcaster Bob Cole said. “The Leafs march on and the Red Wings have been eliminated.”
Barely speaking any English at the time, Borschevsky was asked what he thought afterward by Ron MacLean.
“Oh, unbelievable,” Borschevsky said.
The Leafs fell one win short of a spot in the Stanley Cup final that year, losing to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Campbell Conference final.
1993, JOE CARTER’S WORLD SERIES WALK-OFF
With Philadelphia Phillies closer Mitch Williams on the mound, two men on and the Blue Jays trailing by one at the then-SkyDome, the stage was set for Carter’s heroics in Game 6 of the World Series.
On a 2-2 pitch, Carter connected, drilling it over the left-field fence for a championship-winning shot, sending the Toronto crowd into a frenzy.
“Touch ‘em all Joe, you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life,” late Blue Jays radio broadcaster Tom Cheek bellowed as Carter rounded the bases, giving Toronto back-to-back World Series titles.
2015, JOSE BAUTISTA’S BAT-FLIP HOME RUN
In what is considered one of the wildest innings in baseball history, Bautista notched the crushing blow for the Blue Jays in the fifth and final game of an AL division series against the Texas Rangers.
Bautista’s three-run homer off Rangers’ Sam Dyson in the seventh inning broke a 3-3 tie, sending the Jays on to victory at the Rogers Centre.
The Rangers had taken the lead in the top of the seventh when catcher Russell Martin’s throw back to the mound after a pitch hit Shin-Soo Choo’s bat, allowing Rougned Odor to race home from third. Fans littered the field with debris after an original dead-ball call was overturned.
But then Texas made three consecutive errors in the bottom of the seventh, opening the door for Bautista.
The outfielder flipped his bat after the blast, causing tempers to flare and creating an epic scene in Toronto as the Blue Jays won their first playoff series since Carter’s home run.
“I can’t really remember what was going through my mind, to be honest with you, after I made contact,” Bautista said of the bat flip. “I didn’t plan anything I did. ... I knew I did something great for the team at the moment of impact.”
2016, EDWIN ENCARNACION’S WILD-CARD WALK-OFF
With the roof open on an unseasonably warm October evening in Toronto, Blue Jays slugger Encarnacion produced the biggest home run of his time in Toronto in the AL wild-card game.
In the bottom of the 11th, Encarnacion crushed a Ubaldo Jimenez offering way over the wall in left to give Toronto a 5-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles at the Rogers Centre.
“Hard to put into words,” said Toronto starter Marcus Stroman. “Chills, excitement, I kind of blacked out for a second. Unbelievable. Eddie has been clutch for us all year.”
The win came after a bizarre scene in which a fan tossed a beer can at Baltimore outfielder Hyun-soo Kim as he made a catch, leading to plenty of anger in the Orioles dugout and an eventual charge by police for mischief.
2017, JOZY ALTIDORE’S MLS CUP GOAL
One year after losing in the MLS Cup against Seattle, Toronto FC got another shot at the Sounders at BMO Field.
Two of Toronto’s big-name players hooked up for what turned out to be the winner.
Sebastian Giovinco split the defence with a pass and Altidore chipped the ball over an onrushing Stefan Frei to give Toronto a 1-0 lead in the 67th minute. Toronto added another goal in injury time to seal its first MLS title in franchise history.
“This is the greatest city in the world,” Altidore said after receiving his MVP award on the field.
“This is for you guys, we love you guys,” he added as the crowd chanted “Jozy, Jozy.”