The Jazz’s closing run began with Joe Johnson’s impossible, banked-in 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer and never stopped until the last minute of the game.

What changed? Only everything.

The Jazz suddenly defended, hit momentum-building shots and made the remodeled Vivint Smart Home Arena come alive Wednesday night during a 106-96 win over Denver.

Label this an encouraging start, in the end.

Before the game, the Jazz’s Joe Ingles took the microphone and thanked the franchise owners for the home improvements. “Hopefully, with what they’ve done here,” he said, “we can have one of the best atmospheres in the NBA.”

That’s exactly what developed in the fourth quarter. The reconfigured arena’s capacity is reduced considerably to 18,300 — and the Opening Night attendance was only 17,588. But the crowd sounded a lot bigger than that when the Jazz made their late charge.

“It was electric. It was loud. It was crazy,” said Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell.

The vibe changed dramatically, once the Jazz recovered from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter, built by the Nuggets’ relentless offense. Like I’ve been saying ever since Gordon Hayward left in July, the Jazz have a lot of questions to answer about their defense.

OK, maybe I said offense. In any case, once a Jazz bench led by newcomers Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh clamped down defensively, the Jazz’s scoring started coming.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder’s best postgame word was “persistent.” That captures the theme of a night when his team struggled to stop the other guys for a long time, then turned tough and made an opening argument for themselves as a Western Conference playoff qualifier. The biggest question is whether the Jazz can maintain their one-game lead over Golden State.

By quarters, Denver’s scoring went 30-28-25-13, and that last number was deceiving. The Nuggets had only seven points going into the final minute. Johnson’s shot launched a 25-3 run that featured an eight-point flurry from Alec Burks.

After nearly two years of injuries, Burks has kept saying he’s a different player these days — or his old self, take your pick. With 16 points, he became one of the Jazz’s six double-figures scorers. Even better, in one sense, was how Rodney Hood was not among them.

“The points may come from a lot of places every night,” Snyder said.

Opening Night arrived with a different look, as the Jazz took the court for the first time in eight years without Hayward on their roster. Sadly, Hayward’s first season with the Boston Celtics may have ended as it was starting Tuesday, due to a fractured ankle.

So the Jazz and Celtics (who lost to Milwaukee) found themselves in the same circumstance Wednesday, staging a home opener without a star player. Snyder acknowledged the Jazz’s newness, creating a sense of curiosity about this team that even he shared.

“It’s a path that you’re forging, as opposed to a path that you’re following,” he said before the game.

Who knew exactly what this thing would look like? Five preseason games hardly offered complete evidence about a redesigned offense that no longer goes through Hayward or George Hill. To compensate, Snyder has insisted the Jazz would play faster with Ricky Rubio as their point guard.

Denver coach Mike Malone was mildly skeptical. “If the preseason holds true, they’re willing to get up and run,” he said. “I’m not sure how Quin feels about that. Their defense is one of the best in the NBA. When it comes down to it, I know they’re going to rely on getting half-court stops.

As it turned out, the Jazz did both of those things wonderfully in the fourth quarter. Concluding his pregame address to the fans, Ingles said, “Hope to see ya the rest of the year.”

This performance should keep them coming back.