Kane Williamson reflected on a "tough day at the office" after conceding New Zealand were outplayed by South Africa in Saturday's third one-day international in Wellington.
The Kiwis levelled the five-match series at 1-1 in the second contest, but the Proteas responded with a devastating 159-run victory to regain the lead.
New Zealand were blitzed for just 112 in chase of 272, with only four players reaching double figures and Colin de Grandhomme their top scorer with 34.
Captain Williamson says New Zealand were not expecting the pitch to provide as much movement as it did and acknowledged that South Africa were worthy winners.
"They bowled superbly so it was a tough day at the office for us," Williamson said.
"Initially I was happy with the total [South Africa posted], but in hindsight there was a bit extra to the surface. They bowled very well, it's important that we learn from this a little bit.
"Our best chance of chasing that down was weather the storm in the middle and then have a crack later on, it wasn't easy.
"The nature of their bowlers meant they were able to get seam movement out of that surface.
"It was frustrating, we certainly didn't think it [the pitch] was going to provide that sort of movement. But they outplayed us.
"They got a pretty good score on the board. One-day cricket can be fickle. They outplayed us and we need to bounce back quickly, go back to the basics.
"It's a quick turnaround, so we have to look at the good bits and do better."
The series now heads to Hamilton for match four on Wednesday, with New Zealand needing a victory to force a winner-takes-all decider.