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Bulls have been searching for identity — ‘soft’ comes to mind after loss

BOSTON – It was a short little three-word response from Fred Hoiberg, following Friday night’s 110-101 loss to Boston at the TD Garden.

But one that also spoke volumes.

The first-year coach was asked if he was tired of his team looking soft in too many moments this season, and without hesitation responded, “Yeah, I am.’’

He wasn’t alone.

“Soft’’ is always a dangerous word to use about a team on any level, but also a very fitting description of what this Bulls team has become on a night-to-night basis. And they can try and dress it up with buzzwords like “communication’’ and “energy,’’ but it seems to come back to one common theme with this team: Too soft in too many key moments.

Jimmy Butler definitely wasn’t going to hide from that label.

“Yeah, especially coming out of the gates, and that’s on us starters, man,’’ Butler said, when asked about the marshmallow moments from this team. “We’re digging ourselves a huge hole a lot of these games because we know how talented we are, how well we can score the ball, but defense is all about grit. The will and the want to do-so. I don’t feel like we do-so right now.’’

Even more troubling was Butler pointing out that the coaches stress it, the players talk about it and practice it in shootaround, but once those lights turn on, well, as Butler put it, “when we get out there it’s kind of like we do what we want to do. We’re not on the same page, we’re not communicating, and then on top of everything else we don’t get to the loose ball like the other team does.

“It’s time to stop talking about it. We’ve been talking about this all year long now.’’

With good reason yet again against the Celtics.

First quarter? Down 34-23 and looking lifeless in not only defending, but ball security. Then it’s the usual third-quarter push in which the Bulls outscored Boston (23-21) 33-26, but use way too much energy to get back into the game.

A few key plays late, like allowing Boston to go on an 8-0 run after they cut the lead to just one with 4:43 left, and yet another loss to drop them to 24-18 on the season. Same script, different game.

“Until we understand the urgency we have to come out with, especially at the defensive end, we’re going to find ourselves in the same position,’’ Hoiberg said. “There’s such a fine line in this business of being a great team and a very average team. And we teeter on that line.’’

And while Butler was putting the blame on the entire locker room, he finished with 28 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, playing with flu-like symptoms. Derrick Rose also got the pass, again aggressive all night in scoring 27 points.

No, this fell on the likes of Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Tony Snell, who combined for seven points and 2-for-9 shooting.

“It’s the first time I’ve been on a team like this, where we’re going through this problem,’’ Rose said of the inconsistent play. “I’m trying to take all of it in. At the same time, digest it, look at it from afar, but we have to figure a way.

“We’re not giving that extra effort to be a championship team right now.’’