The Phoenix Mercury are one victory away from the WNBA championship. That victory, however, will have to come in Houston, where the defending champion Comets have only lost once in 16 games all year.

Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper, the Comets' two biggest stars, missed shots that would have tied the score in the final seconds, and the Mercury prevailed 54-51 in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Thursday night.The Mercury's Jennifer Gillom, who finished second to Cooper in MVP balloting, had the satisfaction of leading her club to a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three championship series.

The series shifts to Houston on Saturday. Game 3, if needed, will be Tuesday night in Houston, where the Comets lost only once while running up a 27-3 regular-season record.

Gillom blocked a shot by Houston's Kim Perrot and plucked the ball out of the air with 37 seconds to go, then broke a 51-51 tie with a turnaround layup with 8.9 seconds remaining.

"I don't want to take all the credit here," Gillom said of her 15-point, 10-rebound performance. "But I felt really good, especially after the blocked shot. I wanted to let my teammates know that I was there for them."

"She is a great center and great post player," Houston center Monica Lamb said. "When you get on the court against a player like her, you have to raise the stakes."

Cooper scored 29 points on 11-of-24 shooting, but Swoopes was 3-of-14 from the field, with eight points, 11 rebounds and six assists, and nobody else on the Comets scored more than four points.

"I didn't see anything that they were doing differently," Swoopes said about the Mercury, a team Houston was 3-1 against. "I think we all had really good looks at the basket; I know I did. For some reason, we couldn't throw a pea in the ocean tonight."

Michele Timms had nine points and five assists, including the pass to Gillom for the final basket, and Michelle Griffiths had eight points and 11 rebounds.

Defense and rebounding turned the tide for the Mercury, although Cooper was of a different mind.

"Absolutely nothing that the Phoenix Mercury did was the reason we played as we did," Cooper said. "They should be worried about their offense; they should be worried about why we kept them to 54 points."

The Comets shot only 32 percent to the Mercury's 34 percent, and Phoenix had a 41-32 edge in rebounds, 21-16 in the first half.