ORLANDO — It was understandable that the Celtics held out 36-year-old Al Horford on the second night of a back-to-back set Saturday night in Orlando.
The concern is why they made such a move. Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said Horford played considerable minutes Friday against the Miami Heat and then felt stiff Saturday morning.
Horford was listed with back soreness and it’s uncertain if he will be available Monday at Chicago. Horford has maintained he doesn’t want to sit out games because of age, but he’s open to occasional rest.
After 34 rugged minutes Friday, Horford will get two full days off. The Celtics will not practice Sunday.
“I thought he played a lot [Friday],” Mazzulla said. “He played the whole fourth and he did a great job. He woke up and just didn’t feel right and we’re being considerate of that.”
Noah Vonleh, the Haverhill native, made his first Celtics start Saturday after being the backup center the first two games, and finished with 2 points, 3 rebounds, and a blocked shot in the 126-120 over the Magic. Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens and Mazzulla said reserve center Luke Kornet would play a larger role this season, perhaps even being considered to start with Robert Williams out after knee surgery, but saw his first action of the season Saturday, finishing with 1 point and a rebound in six minutes.
Mazzulla continued to praise Vonleh, who has experienced foul trouble but has had his moments, such as a dynamic spin move and hammer dunk in the first half Friday. He’s averaging 2.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in in 16.2 minutes.
“I think it’s more of an opportunity than anything else,” Mazzulla said of the other centers besides Vonleh. “Those guys work every day. Those guys work every day towards the principals of our defensive system and we think they can help on the defensive end. So it will be a great opportunity for them.”
Doc Rivers impressed by Blake Griffin
Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers coached Blake Griffin nearly a decade ago when he was in his prime. That is no longer the case but Griffin remains in the league as a Celtics reserve, with the understanding he is no longer the player he once was but has enough left to help a title-contending team.
Rivers said what Griffin is doing is rare. Griffin’s former Clippers teammate DeAndre Jordan is still on an NBA roster in Denver. Chris Paul is playing at a high level in Phoenix.
“It’s unusual that a star like him is willing to turn himself into a role player,” Rivers said of Griffin. “It really is and it’s difficult for most players to do that. They can’t. They just can’t. Part of the reason, when I went I L.A., I realize his passing, we started playing him at the elbow more and utilized him as one of our passers. We also allowed him to bring the ball up the floor, so we opened his game up quite a bit. Because of his passing ability and his IQ, it allows him to still play and that’s why he’s here.”
Mazzulla said Griffin is progressing in his digestion of the defensive system.
“Just understanding positioning and angles, matchups, and he works hard at it every single day,” Mazzulla said. “I think he’ll just get better and better.”
Jaylen Brown likes options on offense
The Celtics averaged 118.5 points in their first two games on 54 percent shooting, with five players averaging in double figures. Jaylen Brown, shooting nearly 62 percent overall, and 40 percent from the 3-point line, said the key to success is depth.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons, a lot of options,” he said. “We get our spacing and teams are going to have to help and we’ve got to keep making the right play, taking care of the ball. Miami did what Miami does, trying to rough up the game, being physical, and I thought we handled that well. We’re going to see a lot more of that from teams. I think that’s how they’re going to be able to stay in the game. We come out and be the more physical team. It’s going to be tough to beat us.”
Maine roster taking shape
The G League Maine Celtics have set their roster, highlighted by two-way contract players JD Davison and Mfiondu Kabengele. Former first-round picks Denzel Valentine and Luka Samanic are also on the roster. The club selected former Oklahoma State standout Kendall Smith and ex-Michigan guard Zak Irvin with its first two picks in Saturday’s draft. Maine begins its regular season Nov. 4 against Westchester … The Magic are a young team but have been beset by injuries. Jalen Suggs (sprained ankle), Gary Harris (knee), Markelle Fultz (toe), and Jonathan Isaac (knee) were all out Saturday.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.