New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson conceded that the Proteas outplayed his team in all respects as the Black Caps went down by 159 runs in Wellington.
Williamson confessed that they thought they could comfortably chase down the Proteas total of 271/8 but didn't read the pitch very well.
The drop-in strip provided greater movement under lights and the South African quicks tore through the New Zealand top order.
In the end the Black Caps could only manage 112 all out with Colin de Grandhomme top scoring with 34 not out.
Williamson said at the post match presentation: "They bowled superbly so it was a tough day at the office for us.
"Initially happy with the total, but on hindsight there was a bit more to extra the surface. They bowled very well, it's important that we learn from this a little bit."
The skipper lamented the inability of the middle order to dig in and graft towards the target through a tough middle period once the field had spread.
Williamson felt they needed to keep wickets in hand and try and hit out at the death if they were to win this one but the Proteas picking up scalps.
He went on: "The nature of their bowlers meant they were able to get seam movement out of that surface. Specificially in drop in wickets, it is hard to rotate strike. And you play on smaller grounds so you have to take it deep.
"It was frustrating, we certainly didn't think it 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 today, 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 fourth ODI between New Zealand and South Africa will be played on March 1 in Hamilton.