Apparently, the Houston Comets listen to coach Van Chancellor.

Chancellor, the WNBA's coach of the year, has been preaching defense and rebounding all season, and he got it Monday night. Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson had career highs in rebounds and Cynthia Cooper scored 23 points, leading the Comets into the WNBA finals with a 77-61 victory over the Charlotte Sting.Thompson had 12 points and 14 rebounds, while Swoopes had 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Chancellor was named WNBA coach of the year, and Cooper got the MVP award for the second straight year on Monday.

"Since we've been without Wanda (Guyton) this season, we knew it would be a struggle with rebounding," Swoopes said. "Not just this game, but I've tried to work hard on the boards on offense and defense. Tonight was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time."

The victory advanced the defending champion Comets to the WNBA finals for the second straight year. They'll play either Phoenix Mercury or Cleveland Rockers, who are tied 1-1 in their series.

The Comets led the league in scoring and defense, allowing 63.5 points per game, and they beat that average against the Sting, who have lost nine of 10 games against the Comets the last two seasons.

But it was Cooper's second-half offense that gave them the edge.

The Comets led 50-38 with 17:49 left in the game, but the Sting kept coming back. Andrea Stinson had six points during a 12-5 spurt as the Sting closed to 55-50 with 13:26 left.

Cooper's layup with 11:28 to play, followed by a basket and four free throws as part of a 15-3 run, gave the Comets a 70-53 lead with 7:41 left.

"I don't think we consciously let them run their fast break, but for some reason, we needed a wake-up call," Cooper said. "After they hit a couple of fast-break baskets, we said `Oh, we have to stop that.' "

WNBA rookie of the year Tracy Reid led the Sting with 18 points, while Stinson added 13.

The Comets hit their first six shots of the game and had a 9-0 run, but they led just 29-25 with 8:12 left in the first half. Houston outscored Charlotte 16-9 the rest of the half for a 45-34 halftime lead.

"We fought real hard; we just couldn't convert our shots," Charlotte's Vicki Bullett said. "Our defense was very aggressive, but we couldn't get any second shots, and that was the key."

ROCKERS 67, MERCURY 66: At Cleveland, Phoenix came to Cleveland hoping to earn an early trip back home. Instead, the Mercury found a whole lot of trouble instead.

Jennifer Gillom had 27 points, but missed a 17-footer at the buzzer as the Cleveland Rockers forced a decisive third game in the WNBA semifinals with a 67-66 victory over Phoenix on Monday night.

"It's going to be a war," said Phoenix coach Cheryl Miller, a Hall of Famer who tried everything to end the series except suiting up and checking in at the scorer's table. "(The players) will have to sleep well, eat right, and if you're religious, say some prayers."

It was hardly a prayer when Gillom, a top contender for league MVP honors, took aim at a turnaround jumper at the buzzer. She was 7-of-9 from the field in the second half, nearly single-handedly erasing Cleveland's double-digit lead.

After Merlakia Jones put Cleveland ahead with a layup, the Mercury's Kristi Harrower passed inbounds to Bridget Pettis with 5.8 seconds left. Pettis dribbled to the 3-point line and passed to Gillom, whose high-arcing 17-footer at the buzzer hit the rim and bounced away to force Game 3 tonight at Cleve-land.

Eastern Conference champion Cleveland will be soaring with confidence after making this a one-game series on its home floor. It was the Rockers' first victory over Phoenix in four tries this season.

"It's good to show everybody we can beat them," said Michelle Edwards, who led the Rockers with 18 points.

Isabelle Fijalkowsi had 16 points for Cleveland, and Janice Braxton had 10 rebounds, including two crucial ones in the final, pressure-packed minute. Jones had 10 points for the Rockers, who won despite shooting 34 percent from the field (25-for-73).

Pettis, sent back on the court with a shove from Miller after throwing up into a cup on the sideline, had 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Michelle Griffiths had 11 points.