Austin Rivers hit four consecutive 3 pointers during a critical stretch in the final quarter and finished with 21 points for third-seeded Denver, which had 20 3s overall.
The Blazers fought from 3-point selection and obtained poor shooting out of their bench players despite cheers from the largest home crowd allowed in the Moda Center this year.
Game 4 is Saturday at the Moda Center.
Denver led 84-79 heading into the last period, but Portland tied it in 91 on Carmelo Anthony's 3-pointer with just under seven minutes to play.
Rivers' third straight 3-pointer put the Nuggets up 102-94 with 3:49 left and his teammates hurried over to celebrate with him as a timeout was called.
Nurkic finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Portland pulled within 108-103 following Lillard's dip with 1:38 left, but Rivers answered with a different 3-pointer that all but sealed it.
Sixth-seeded Portland opened the first round with a 123-109 victory in Denver. But the Nuggets adjusted to take Game 2 128-109.
The playoffs have been a scrappy struggle for points involving Lillard and Jokic. Lillard was averaging 38 points and 11.5 rebounds throughout the first two matches, while Jokic averaged 36 points and 12 rebounds.
The Nuggets led by as many as 12 points in the opening half as Portland uncharacteristically struggled from the perimeter. The Blazers' bench also fought, with only 3 points jointly in the opening half.
Denver made 12 of its 20 3-point attempts and led 64-59 in the break.
Jokic made back-to-back 3 pointers to put the Nuggets up 75-64, but Portland responded with a 11-2 run to get within 77-75.
Portland made just 14 of 45 3-point attempts in the game.
Denver's playoff record for 3s in a game is 22, set last year in the opening round against Utah.
The Blazers were permitted to increase capacity to a maximum of 8,000 fans for the playoff games at the Moda Center. That was up from the 10% potential (about 1,900 fans) for the final four games of the regular season.
Portland also added segments without the social distancing requirements for fully vaccinated lovers.
Nuggets: Can Barton went via pre-game warmups with the Nuggets, but stayed out with a hamstring strain. He has missed 16 games. ... The Nuggets went 14-6 over their final 20 road games of the regular season.
Trail Blazers: Back in 2019 when the Blazers downed the Nuggets in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals, Portland won Game 3 with the series tied at 1-1. That Game 3 has been an epic four-overtime battle with the Blazers prevailing 140-137.