England could have clinched the series with victory following fine wins in Durham and Manchester, but the Black Caps posted an imposing 202 for five after Finn Allen crunched 83 and Glenn Phillips blitzed 69 off 34 balls.
It left the T20 world champions requiring their third highest chase to secure a first series success since they pipped Pakistan to the world title last November, but they made a dismal start to their reply.
Openers Will Jacks and Jonny Bairstow were out cheaply while Dawid Malan produced a painful innings of two from 11 balls as England slumped to 30 for three before they were skittled for 128 despite Buttler’s 40 at a strike rate of 190.47.
“Credit to New Zealand, they really outplayed us,” Buttler reflected ahead of Tuesday’s finale in Nottingham.
“A good toss to win and we probably let them get a few too many. Credit to them, I thought that partnership with Finn Allen and Glenn Phillips, we just couldn’t break that and they took the game away from us a bit.
“Chasing that kind of score, we needed a fast start and a really good powerplay, but New Zealand bowled well and we didn’t get anything going, any partnerships so it looks a big defeat in the end.”
On a dry and turning wicket, England’s spinners struggled and Moeen Ali, who later hit 26, was surprisingly not given the ball, which Buttler later confirmed was a tactical decision.
Adil Rashid had bowled economically to concede 23 from his first three overs, but Allen sent him out of the attack with a bang after three successive sixes in the 15th over while Liam Livingstone faced similar punishment to register one for 55.
Gus Atkinson was a rare positive for the hosts after he claimed two for 31 in his second international appearance having been a shock selection in England’s preliminary World Cup squad last month.
Buttler told Sky Sports: “Delighted for Gus and great for him to get more exposure under his belt, more games of international cricket.
“He looks very comfortable at the minute, he has settled in really well with the group and his performances have been brilliant.”
England’s batters had less to shout about with Malan following up his four-ball duck at Old Trafford with an equally disappointing innings, while star of the summer Harry Brook contributed just eight and Livingstone’s lean spell with the bat continued with two.
Assistant coach Marcus Trescothick admitted a chase of 203 was too tall an order, especially after they were 30 for two at the end of the powerplay.
“They both played well, there is no doubt about that and they did something we didn’t, which was a partnership,” Trescothick said of Allen and Phillips, who put on 88 for the third wicket.
“It wasn’t an easy pitch but if you had people get in and used to the pace of it, then it was a little easier.
“Chasing 200 you have always got to get off to a decent start. You need to get 55 or 60 in the powerplay and we lost a couple of early wickets and didn’t get going, so it put us on the back foot.
“You are always trying to play catch up at that point.”
New Zealand opener Allen was pleased to make a significant contribution after a string of starts during the last month in England where he featured for Southern Brave in The Hundred.
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“It has been a frustrating last six weeks because I feel like I’ve got a lot of starts and not kicked on, so to stick one out and bat deep was quite nice for a change,” Allen added.
“Pre-game we talked about how it was important we focused on our individual roles and we pretty much nailed that as a team. Our bowlers came out and hit their areas from the start, so it was a pretty well-rounded team performance.”