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MANILA, Philippines – A rookie on a six-month deal turned into an unlikely hero for TNT as it snagged the last playoff berth in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
Kim Aurin proved his worth in his first PBA start and fired a season-high 18 points in a 116-96 win over Phoenix on Sunday, January 14, that allowed the Tropang Giga to secure the No. 8 seed in the quarterfinals.
Given the starting chance by head coach Jojo Lastimosa, Aurin shot 6-of-12 from the field, including three triples, in nearly 22 minutes as he helped steer TNT out of danger in what would have been a complicated path to the playoffs.
A loss to the Fuel Masters would have resulted in the Tropang Giga facing sister team NLEX in a do-or-die clash for the last playoff spot.
“I was surprised that I was in the first five,” said the 26-year-old rookie out of Perpetual. “In my mind, I needed to contribute to the team. Coach Jolas trusted me and I needed to repay that.”
Lastimosa has turned to Aurin for an offensive boost as TNT still reels from the absence of former scoring champion Mikey Williams.
The Tropang Giga were also only welcoming back veteran guards Jayson Castro and Roger Pogoy from their respective injuries.
His playing time steadily rising, Aurin averages 5.8 points on an impressive 57% shooting from three-point distance (2.33 attempts per game).
“I think he deserves all the minutes that he is getting right now. We talked about starting him because we are looking for a scorer,” said Lastimosa.
“We realized that in the guard spot, we needed a scorer, and with Kim, that’s one of his strongest skills. We know that he can score,” the coach added.
A standout for Barangay Ginebra in the PBA 3×3, Aurin got picked 34th overall by the same team in the previous draft, although he was left unsigned by the Gin Kings.
Then came TNT, swooping him up on a six-month deal.
“He has a lot to prove, a lot of people refused to take him. He wanted to play five-on-five and now we’re looking at a guy who’s going to play a little bit more. He deserves what he’s getting right now,” said Lastimosa.
Still, Lastimosa hopes Aurin will continue to step up on both ends as the quarterfinals near.
“His only problem is his defense. Sometimes, he gets lost. He’s still trying to get into the system of how we do things defensively,” said Lastimosa. “There was even a point in the game that I put him out because he made a mistake, but the good thing is he was able to respond.”
For his part, Aurin remains all ears on the coaches’ tabs.
“They keep my mistakes in check every training so I can improve,” said Aurin.
TNT faces a tall order in the quarterfinals as it battles top seed and twice-to-beat Magnolia on Wednesday, January 17, at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City. – Rappler.com